Ray Cook - As I See It

Israel, Zionism and the Media

Month: October 2011

Ron Prosor tells the UN a thing or two

I just loved this statement to the the UN Security Council by former Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor.

In a few sentences it starkly exposes the UN for what it has become, an instrument of anti-Israel sentiment which is seriously failing to address properly many of the world’s most urgent conflicts and problems because of this obsession with one country and one conflict.

I cannot resist quoting it virtually in full because it says almost everything that needs to be said

Thank you, Mr. President.

Let me begin by reminding this Council that the name of today’s debate is the “Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” – and not vice versa. This morning I’d like to take the unusual step of actually focusing on the situation in the Middle East.

Let me assure you that I will give proper attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, first, let’s look at the facts: the Middle East is in turmoil. Thousands of innocents have been gunned down in the streets. People are calling for their freedom and demanding their rights. Yet, month after month, this Council focuses disproportionately on one and only one conflict in our region.

I don’t claim that this Council does not deal with the situations of specific countries in the Middle East. It does. However, I think it is time to start connecting the dots so that we can face the bigger picture.

For generations, the Arab world has failed miserably to address the needs of its own people. The United Nations Development Program has sponsored five “Arab Human Development Reports” since 2002. Year after year, the Arab researchers who write these reports offer a glimpse into the real world of the Middle East. Young people struggle without access to jobs and education. Women are denied basic rights. Free expression is repressed. Minorities are persecuted. Elections are a sham.

And with their world in flames, Arab leaders continue to blame Israel and the West for all their problems. For years, it’s the only explanation that they have been able to offer to their own people. From time to time, they spice up the story. When a shark attacked a tourist in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the local Egyptian governor suggested that the Mossad was using sharks to harm Egyptian tourism. Everything wrong in the Middle East, according to many Arab leaders, is simply Israel’s fault. If it’s not the Mossad, it’s the CIA, or MI6, or some other “foreign force”.

Today the people of the Middle East demand real answers for their plight. We have seen their brave stands in public squares. We have heard their cries. And we have witnessed the deadly response to these calls for freedom.

In Hama, Daraa and Latakia, the Syrian regime slaughters its citizens in a desperate bid to hold onto power. Some members of this council remain blind to Assad’s brutality.

In Libya, the reign of Moammar Qaddafi is over after more than 40 years of repression and many months of bloodshed. The Libyan despot’s violent end illustrated what Churchill once described as a signal disadvantage of the dictator: what he does to others may often be done back to him. This truth haunts the minds of many leaders in our region – and Qaddafi’s fate rings an alarm for them.

In Iran, an Ayatollah regime represses its own people as it helps other tyrants to butcher theirs. Last week, UN Special Rapporteur Shaheed briefed the General Assembly, offering a chilling picture of daily life in Iran. His report highlighted “a pattern of systemic violations of… fundamental human rights… including multifarious deficits in relation to the administration of justice… practices that amount to torture… the imposition of the death penalty in the absence of proper judicial safeguards… the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and the erosion of civil and political rights.”

Iran remains the world’s central banker, chief trainer and primary sponsor of terror. Recent events have shown that its state-directed terrorist activities extend from the Persian Gulf to the Washington Beltway, with targets that range from innocent protestors to foreign soldiers to official diplomatic representatives. This is the way the regime behaves today. One can only imagine what it would do with a nuclear capability – with the dangerous combination of extremist ideology, advanced missile technology and nuclear weapons.

IAEA reports make clear that Iran continues to march toward the goal of a nuclear bomb in defiance of the international community. We cannot allow it to place the entire world under the specter of nuclear terrorism. The world must stop Iran before it is too late.

Yes, Mr. President,

The Middle East is trembling. Its future is uncertain. And two roads stand before us.

There is the future offered by Iranian and Syrian leaders – a future of more extremism, greater violence and continued hate. Their vision will not liberate human beings, it will enslave them. It does not build, it destroys. And there is another road – a path of progress, reform and moderation.

The choice before us is clear – and it has never been more critical to make the right choice for the future of the Middle East and all its inhabitants. It is time for this Council to stop ignoring the destructive forces that seek to keep the Middle East in the past, so that we can seize the promise of a brighter future.

Mr. President,

Make no mistake: it is important for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve our longstanding conflict. It is important on its own merits, so that Israelis and Palestinians alike can lead peaceful, secure and prosperous lives. But it will not produce a sudden outbreak of stability, harmony and democratization from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. And seriously addressing the underlying problems of the Middle East will be essential for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The road to peace can only be built on a foundation of mutual recognition and dialogue.

A month ago, President Abbas stood in this building and said the following:

“I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him).”

He denied 4,000 years of Jewish history. It was not a small omission. It was not an oversight. The Palestinian leadership attempts to erase the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

Others in the Arab world have offered a different message. For example, in 1995, King Hussein came to the United States and said: “For our part, we shall continue to work for the new dawn when all the Children of Abraham and their descendants are living together in the birthplace of their three great monotheistic religions.” Let me repeat this. King Hussein said three monotheistic religions, not one or two.

Those who seek peace do not negate the narrative of the other side. On the contrary, they recognize its existence and choose to sit down and negotiate peace in good faith. This is what President Sadat did. This is what King Hussein did.

The ancient Jewish bond to the land of Israel is unbreakable. This is our homeland. The UN recognized Israel as a Jewish state 64 years ago. It is time for the Palestinians and the more than 20 Muslim countries around the globe to do the same.

Let there be no doubt: Israel wants peace with a future Palestinian state. Let me repeat that: Israel wants peace with a future Palestinian state. In word and in deed, my government has demonstrated time and again that we seek two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace.

Prime Minister Netanyahu stood in this hall last month and issued a clear call to President Abbas. Let me reiterate that call today to the Palestinians. Sit down with Israel. Leave your preconditions behind. Start negotiations now.

The international community has called on the Palestinians to go back to negotiations. Israel has accepted the principles outlined by the Quartet to restart negotiations immediately, without preconditions. We are waiting for the Palestinians to do the same.

Mr. President,

The Palestinians suggest that settlements are the core cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s an interesting assertion considering that our conflict was raging for nearly a half century before a single settlement sprung up in the West Bank. From 1948 until 1967, the West Bank was part of Jordan, and Gaza was part of Egypt. The Arab world did not lift a finger to create a Palestinian state. And it sought Israel’s annihilation when not a single settlement stood anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza.

The issue of settlements will be worked out over the course of negotiations, but the primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. This is a just a pretext for the Palestinians to avoid negotiations. The primary obstacle to peace is the Arab world’s refusal to acknowledge the Jewish people’s ancient connection to the Land of Israel – and the Palestinian’s insistence on the so-called right of return.

Today the Palestinian leadership is calling for an independent Palestinian state, but insists that its people return to the Jewish state. It’s a proposition that no one who believes in the right of Israel to exist could accept because the only equation in political science with mathematical certainty is that the so-called right of return equals the destruction of the State of Israel. The idea that Israel will be flooded with millions of Palestinians is a non-starter. The international community knows it. The Palestinian leadership knows it. But the Palestinian people aren’t hearing it. This gap between perception and reality is the major obstacle to peace. The so-called right of return is the major hurdle to achieving peace.

Since the Palestinian leadership refuses to tell the Palestinian people the truth, the international community has a responsibility to tell the Palestinian people about the basic compromises that they will have to make.

Mr. President,

The many issues that remain outstanding can only – and will only – be resolved in direct negotiations between the parties. Israel’s peace with Egypt was negotiated, not imposed. Our peace with Jordan was negotiated, not imposed. Israeli-Palestinian peace must be negotiated. It cannot be imposed. The Palestinians’ unilateral action at the United Nations is no path to real statehood. It is a march of folly.

Today the Palestinians are far from meeting the basic criteria for statehood, including the test of effective control. The President of the Palestinian Authority has zero authority in the Gaza Strip. Before flying 9,000 kilometers to New York to seek UN membership, President Abbas should have driven 50 kilometers to Gaza, where he has been unable to visit since 2007.

In the same breath that they claim their state will be “peace-loving”, Palestinian leaders speak of their unity with Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization. Hamas and “peace-loving”? There is no greater contradiction in terms. This month, on a fundraising excursion for terrorism with his Iranian patrons, Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh stood in front of an audience in Tehran and said, “the correct strategy to liberate our country and Jerusalem is violent resistance.”

Under Hamas rule, Gaza remains a launching ground for constant rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians, which are fueled by the continuous flow of weapons from Iran and elsewhere. Israel has the right to defend itself. As the Palmer report made clear, the naval blockade is a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea.

When it is not attacking Israelis, Hamas is oppressing its own people. In Gaza, civil society is nonexistent, political opponents are tortured, women are subjugated, and children are used as suicide bombers and human shields. Textbooks and television glorify martyrdom and demonize Jews. Incitement against Israelis also continues in the West Bank and in the official institutions of the Palestinian Authority, which names its public squares after suicide bombers.

The unresolved questions about a future Palestinian state cannot be simply swept under the carpet. They go to the core of resolving our conflict. They have to be addressed. Let me be clear: for Israel, the question is not whether we can accept a Palestinian state. We can. The question is what will be the character of the state that emerges alongside us and whether it will live in peace.

Mr. President,

The Palestinians’ unilateral action at the UN breaches the Oslo Accords, the Interim Agreement, the Paris Protocol and other bilateral agreements that form the basis for 40 spheres of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation – all of which could be jeopardized by a unilateral action at the UN. This unilateral initiative will raise expectations that cannot be met. It is a recipe for instability and potentially, violence. Members of the international community should be clear about their responsibilities:  You vote for it, you own it. All those who vote for unilateral recognition will be responsible for its consequences.

At this critical juncture, the Palestinians’ true friends will encourage them to put aside the false idol of unilateralism and get back to the hard work of direct negotiations.

Speaking of friends, the many so-called Arab champions of the Palestinian cause have a responsibility to play a constructive role. Constructive support from the Arab world is vital for building the civic and economic structures necessary for real Palestinian statehood and peace. Instead of simply adding to the chorus of state-bashing, the Palestinians true supporters will help advance state-building.

Arab donors provided just 20 percent of the international funds for the Palestinian Authority’s regular budget last year. Let me put this in perspective: last year, Arab donations to the regular PA budget accounted for a little more than half of what Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal spent on his newest personal luxury jet. People in Washington, London, and Paris are struggling with an economic downturn, but still providing the bulk of support for Palestinian institutions, while Arab states saturated in petrol dollars don’t even give the Palestinians crumbs off the table.

Mr. President,

In the Jewish tradition, we are taught: “Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.” This sacred principle forms the backbone of Israel’s democracy. It drives our government’s policy. We witnessed a clear reflection of these values last week – as all of Israel welcomed home our kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, after more than five years in Hamas captivity. It was a moment of great joy, but it came with tremendous costs.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary-General personally and some of the countries represented here today that played an important role in the release of Gilad Shalit.

For us, the supreme value of a single human life justified releasing more than a thousand terrorists and criminals covered in the blood of innocents.

The values inherent in such an act shine bright in our region. Many took note. On Twitter, one Syrian blogger, Soori Madsoos, wrote “Their government is prepared to pay the ultimate price for one citizen, while our government kills us like we are animals and our Arab neighbors say that it’s an internal matter.” Time and again, Israel has shown that it is ready and able to make bold and courageous decisions to preserve life, to uphold human dignity and to pursue peace.

Mr. President,

Sustainable peace must be negotiated. It must be nurtured. It must be anchored in security. It must take root in homes, schools and media that teach tolerance and understanding, so that it can grow in hearts and minds. It must be built on a foundation of younger generations that understand the compromises necessary for peace. A brighter future in the Middle East must be forged from within, when we are open and honest about the challenges before us – and resolute in our determination to meet them together.

Thank you.

Rockets rain on Israel, BBC again inverts cause and response

Can you imagine this BBC headline in September WWII:

“100 German infantry killed by Polish bombers – SS vow revenge”

And then decide to report that the Wehrmacht have begun operations in Poland in retaliation for earlier Polish air attacks.

You will note that Basil Fawlty was more accurate when accused of ‘starting it’ and responded, “You invaded Poland”.

Oh for a latter-day Basil at Al Beeb! Or at least one sage!

Melanie Phillips has been closely following the BBC Middle East desk’s clear intention to blame Israel for escalation whilst posing as even-handed and objective. You can read her articles here and here.

As I followed the news via Twitter last night, I too was monitoring the BBC’s response and was appalled by what amounted to agitprop for the Islamic Jihad dressed up as journalism.

Whilst the country is obsessed with News Corp’s egregious behaviour at Parliamentary level surely it is time to look at the BBC – Guardian Axis when it comes to reporting the Middle East and in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Within minutes of the death of Sir Jimmy Savile OBE the BBC had a potted obituary across its website but as Southern Israel cowered in bomb shelters, closed schools and listened to the wail of air-raid sirens, all the BBC could muster was to report on the death of five ‘militants’ who were were killed preparing to launch a rocket at Israel.

Even today’s Sunday Times has a tiny little paragraph headed “Gaza Strike” and continues:

Israel carried out an air strike against an Islamic Jihad training camp in the Gaza Strip yesterday, killing five men. It claimed the group was responsible for rocket attacks. (my emphasis)

Notice ‘claimed’ – apparently Israel is an unreliable source and maybe Israel had an ulterior motive. Add to this the vague ‘rocket attacks’ which context as to time and place you have a compete misrepresentation of events.

But the BBC plumbed even greater depths hinting at the often used trope that missiles from Gaza are hand-made and harm no-one so any response from Israel is disproportionate and ‘aggression’. They reported (now corrected) that rockets landed harmlessly. Why mention that? If not to provide a subtext of  ‘So, therefore, any Israeli response is disproportionate’.

This idea was soon scotched when these harmless rockets actually killed someone. Then, of course, the twitosphere which one minute is condemning Israel for disproportionate aggression now claims that the man’s death was a result of justified retaliation.

Am I reading in too much? I don’t think so. This is exactly the same mindset whenever Israel acts to defend its population, whether it be in Operation Cast Lead or the Mavi Marmara. When it reacts to the aggression of others, it is condemned even by those here in Britain who should know better and claim to be a friend of Israel (i.e Cameron and Hague as well as the Millipedes).

As I tweeted last night:

#Israel should not pre-emptively strike at rocket launchers like the British should not have attacked V1 and V2 sites until Germans launched


#BBC cheerleaders 4 #Hamas & pro-Pals believe/imply that if a rocket kills noone #Israel should just ignore it bbc.in/vthEoX

Then if a rocket DOES kill someone, it’s ‘retaliation’ = ‘justified’ 

which was the sandwich for Melanie’s

BBC ignores rocket attacks on Israel, presents defence strikes as aggression. MPs should question abuse of licence fee.

As Melanie points out, it was Islamic Jihad who fired into Gaza on Wednesday beginning the Cycle of Violence as a Twitter friend put it. In fact Twitter was alive with pro-Palestinians and Left wingers berating Israeli aggression and even postulating that it was a deliberate attempt to have an excuse for not releasing the remaining 550 criminals in the second tranche of the Shalit ‘deal’.

One reporter suggested this may an attempt by Assad of Syria to deflect from the horrors of the brutal repression of his people.

I have another idea: Islamic Jihad want to lure Israel into a ground operation and kidnap another soldier. On the other hand maybe they want to attract Israeli aircraft which they can attack with their newly-acquired Libyan ground-to-air missile.

Of course, if you go to the BBC site now,  as has often happened in the past, there is a more balanced report. The BBC prides itself for the speed of reporting. Maybe the night shift have one spin they wish to place on any Israeli defensive action and the day shift have another. Or maybe it’s more cynical than that: defame Israel first then cover your tracks with what passes for balanced, for which read ‘morally-relative-human-rights-speak’.

Whatever the case is, it’s very poor journalism and as one of the world’s leading news organisations it beggars belief.






Gilad Shalit and the Muslim newsagent

My wife shops near her school Fridays to get bread and stuff for Shabbat from the Jewish baker.

She then goes next door to the newsagent to get her Jewish papers.

The owners are devout Muslims.

They are always friendly, polite, respectful.

However, you never really know what they think of their Jewish clientele, after all, business is business, no?

Today I drove my wife to collect the bread and get the papers.

I stood beside her as she took the local Jewish paper to the counter where the young (20 something) son of the owner was serving.

On the front page was a huge picture of Gilad Shalit.

This is what the young man said, verbatim, unprompted:

“Thank God he is home safe”.

I don’t know why but I fill up just thinking about that.

We were both speechless. We expected a polite ignoring of this story, after all, why should he care? We always presume that the sympathy would be only with the Palestinians.

I was reluctant to tell this story that had moved me. Was it patronising or discourteous to Muslims to somehow believe they would not be relieved at the release of a young man? A Jew. An Israeli.  Did it say more about my prejudices than those I am subscribing to them?

A Muslim friend advised me that it was a good story to tell. It shows us that if we really spoke to each other more, we might surprise each other.

Chag Sameach.


Tales of Succot

*Readers’ warning: some of these tales have been ever so slightly embellished for comic effect.

Well, this is a first for me: blogging from my succah.

Succot is just about my favourite festival. To any outsider the rituals of Succot (or Succos if you like) seem strange to say the least and give rise to many an amusing incident.

If you are not familiar with the festival please see the information at the end of this blog.

Succahs take many shapes and forms. Ours, as you can see on the right, is made of a metal frame and canvas walls with the roof made from bamboo slats. Other building and roofing materials are available.

A succah is a temporary dwelling but some people have permanent structures which are used for other purposes during the rest of the year. One such structure is my rabbi’s garden shed:

The Tale of the Rabbi’s Succah

My rabbi’s succah is a converted garden shed which can seat a surprising number of people. The roof has been specially adapted so that, using a cantilevered pulley system, it splits in two like the Space Shuttle’s payload bay and is then tied down to reveal the ‘schach’, the roof covering, which is straw thatch but must be sufficiently ‘porous’ to allow starlight to penetrate.

Some years ago, with the succah roof fully opened to a clear autumnal sky, the rabbi’s doorbell rang.

On opening the front door both the bell-ringer and the rabbi were surprised. The bell-ringer was not expecting a tall dark figure with a flowing beard, and the rabbi was confronted by a complete stranger rather than the half-expected visitation of a member of his congregation.

“Good evening,” said the bell-ringer, unfazed, “can I have look through your telescope?”

The Tale of the Succah and the Blitz

A good friend of mine tells me that his grandparents lived in the East End during the War. As observant Jews they would always build a succah for the Succot festival.

One night, the Jews of the East End, along with everyone else, had to take shelter in a different sort of temporary dwelling: the London Underground.

They lay huddled in a tunnel listening to the now all too familiar sound of the percussion of bombs and the shuddering of the ground above their heads.

Nothing could prepare them for the sight which met them on returning to ground level after the all-clear sirens.

Amidst burning rubble lay the ruins of their house.

Only one object was left standing: the funny little hut with its slatted roof.

My friend’s grandfather’s succah had survived the Blitz

The Tale of the Succah as a political symbol

As I look out into the garden I have noticed that everyday my succah is leaning further and further to the right. The gradient of the garden and the prevailing winds play havoc with its stability.

Is the succah like me I wonder? Am I, too, inclining further to the Right as I get older, buffeted by the prevailing winds of the new political orthodoxy and succumbing to the slippery slope of Neo-Con thinking? Am I gradually losing all contact with my socialist upbringing?

Then I enter the succah and look out. From this viewpoint my succah is leaning to the left.

So I guess the list of a succah depends on where you are standing, just like a political viewpoint, all is relative to the person doing the looking.

The Tale of the Succah Crawls

In years gone by it was a tradition in the community that between the morning service and mincha in the afternoon we would congregate at the rabbi’s succah and then plot a course through the neighbourhood visiting each others’ succah.

Each succah owner, or rather the wife of each owner, would prepare a little feast of pop, biscuits, fruit and cake. The group of itinerant succah crawlers would be accompanied by children who would be asked to make the correct blessing on each type of food whilst the men (and women) would each have a ‘l’chaim’ or two and enjoy a chat.

As the crawl proceeded, rather like its non-Jewish inspiration, the ‘pub crawl’, the ‘crawlers’ became increasingly convivial as the toll of whiskies, kosher liqueurs and assorted alcoholic beverages whose provenance could often be traced to the duty-free shops of Ben Gurion Airport, took their inevitable effect.

The orderly grouping of sober men and children in sober suits and sober winter coats ended up as a raggle-taggle loud assortment of observant Jews at various stages of inebriation.

When they finally descended upon the synagogue in time for mincha (afternoon service) I’m not sure that they (we) were in a suitably appropriate condition that met the prerequisites of halacha (law) for davening (prayer).

The Tale of the Succah that didn’t make it

Succot falls at the beginning of Autumn, more or less. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one and that means that the date varies from year to year in terms of the solar calendar.

On the whole, here in Northern England, succot heralds the advent of darker and colder days.

If you have a standalone succah like ours, unlike the succah which was the hero of the Blitz, it is very much at the mercy of the elements. It is not designed to resist extreme weather; the ‘roof” is particularly susceptible to collapse, made as it is from a few wooden planks and bamboo slats.

We used to have a wooden succah which I would assemble and then disassemble every year. We actually had a plastic cover for the roof to keep the rain out when we weren’t inside it. This cover could, under the right conditions, act like a hot air balloon or drogue chute.

One morning, after a particularly blustery night we discovered the plastic sheet draped across the fence and the succah itself had apparently ‘walked’ or flown a few metres across the garden threatening to end up in a neighbour’s back yard. The wooden beams had fallen inside along with the bamboo and a wall.

One can imagine the scene as the succah took flight like Grandpa Potts outhouse in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (or should that be Me Ol’ Bamboo?) or Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz.

What must the neighbours have thought? Which leads me to:

What Do the Neighbours Think?

Succot is the time of year when we are most visibly Jewish in a non-Jewish country.

I often wonder what the neighbours make of the annual succah building, the strange night time meals when we parade into the succah wearing heavy coats and reappear immediately to wring out sodden towels used for drying chairs.

Then, long after we have returned to the house, the candles turn our seven foot square booth into a huge Chinese lantern well into the night.

Then there is the morning where we can be observed taking out our strange leaves and palm frond and a yellow citrus fruit the likes of which you never see in Tesco, then shaking them, popping them back into their receptacles and proceeding as if nothing completely weird just happened.

These days I carry my lulav in a transparent plastic sleeve. Not long ago the container was a metre-long cardboard box. As the men made their way to the synagogue with this long box in one hand a little box in the other (for the etrog) I fancifully wondered if our neighbours might rename our festival Snookot, as it would appear to the uninitiated that this was the season of the Annual Jewish Snooker Contest.

Chag Sameach!


Additional information:

The festival has two main symbols, the Succah and the Arba Minim (the Four Species or Lulav and Etrog).

The latter relates to the festival’s origins as a fruit harvest festival, one of the three ‘Foot Festivals’ or pilgrimages which took place at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The former is a commemoration of the temporary ‘booths’ in which the Children of Israel dwelt during their sojourn in the wilderness on their way to the Land of Israel.

At the end of the festival we also celebrate the completion and, therefore, the beginning of the annual cycle of weekly Torah reading with Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Law.

Every year for the last 15 years or so I have built a succah in my garden and every year I buy my lulav and etrog.

You can see what they look like on the right. We have to make a blessing on the lulav every day, except Shabbat, and in the synagogue we have special prayers during which the lulav is shaken in all directions of the compass and up and down and paraded around the synagogue in procession.

At the end of the festival on Hoshana Rabba willow branches are beaten against the ground, symbolic of the threshing of our sins. This links Succot to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as the day on which our fate for the year is finally delivered.

Thus the many symbols and the interweaving of many themes linking Succot, Hashana Rabba, Simchat Torah and also Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a very beautiful, joyous and poetic time of the year.

When you live in Northern England very few years go by where you can sit in your succah everyday. If Rosh Hoshana often brings an Indian Summer, as it did this year, then Succot is sure to bring rain and cold and damp. After all, this festival was designed for a late Israeli summer not a British Autumn.

This year, so far, has been good. We have been able to spend a lot of time in the succah. But as I write, the sky is greying and the temperature is dropping. If it becomes too uncomfortable to be in the succah then you can come back into the comfort of your regular home.

In warm climates you are obliged to do everything you would do in your home, including, according to some authorities, sleep, in your succah, as well as entertaining and working.

It’s hard to describe the experience of living in a succah but it seems to stir some atavistic instincts which, like camping, recall some embedded memories of cave dwelling and times before central-heating and flat-screen TV’s.


Shalit and what the deal tells us about Israel and Hamas

I am not going to tell you whether I believe the deal, recently brokered, to exchange one Israeli soldier, Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, for 1027 Palestinian prisoners, is right or wrong.

Well, I am, actually; but not from a political point of view, or a practical one, or a religious one.

I am going to give you an answer from an ethical point of view, but not the obvious one about releasing murderers who may kill again.

I have had various conversations over the last few days with friends and members of the community to which I belong; some believe it is right to exchange Shalit and some do not.

The reason for the disagreement always centred around the rights of Shalit and his family against the rights of the families whose relatives had been the victims of hundreds of murderers and terrorists.

At the same time, the rights of those who may be killed in the future by those released also posed a dilemma throughout these discussions.

The truth is there is no right answer when you argue in these terms.

The point isn’t that Israel believes that one Jewish Israeli is ‘worth’ 1027 Palestinians. That is ridiculous.

The point is that Hamas knows that Israel values life, that Israel, Israelis and Jews across the world care that a young man is languishing in captivity without access to his family and friends, without education, without a sex life, without doing all those things that 20-something young men should be doing; and why? Because he was a soldier, not because he committed a crime, except that of being an Israeli.

Hamas has no such concerns or scruples when it comes to Palestinian prisoners. It is not their lives that Hamas cared about but their political value and their ability to hurt Israel even as convicted criminals.

Hamas knows that Israel values life. The perverted, inverted ‘morality’ of Hamas’s Islamist cult is in love with death.

Hamas has abandoned all semblance of what passes for human behaviour.

When you have bled yourself of all compassion, when you feed off your own hatred and have dehumanised an entire people; when you have nothing but contempt for your enemy because it has all those human qualities which you consider to be weaknesses, then it is a matter of little consequence and no conscience to win the obscene auction of a young man.

And that is why I support this exchange. I support it because it confirms in me the belief that I am on the right side. It’s not about good and evil; it’s about flawed humanity, which is, nevertheless, humanity and pure unabstracted malice and distilled evil.

And I could not care less about all the crowing and victory whooping and all the threats to kidnap more Israelis; and I don’t give a damn about the hero welcomes and the streets and squares which will be named after murderers who have deliberately targeted children, teenagers and the elderly.

What I care about is that my humanity remains intact, that Israel has demonstrated clearly that its humanity is intact and Gilad Shalit will be free.

BBC, Panetta, Israel and the blame game

Good ol’ Beeb are at it again.

It seems even the most simple message is spun against Israel, lacks context and distorts intentions.

This was the headline in an article posted earlier this week:

Israel risks Middle East isolation, warns US official

The BBC News website has long touted lies and half-truths which have become accepted ‘facts’.

Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has warned.

Didn’t anyone notice that, apart from Turkey, it has always been isolated despite two cold peace treaties. ‘Isolated’ should really be ‘threatened’, but no-one will say that. It’s not diplomatic. So they have to put the blame on Israel.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta did, indeed, say this but here is what he said verbatim:

“It’s pretty clear that this dramatic time in the Middle East, where there have been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated, and that’s what’s happening,” Mr Panetta told journalists aboard a US Air Force plane en route to the Middle East

As reported later in the article. But the BBC has to editorialise, of course.

He said Israel should restart peace talks with the Palestinians and restore good relations with Turkey and Egypt.

Can you see what they did there? The verbatim quote states a fact and provides the reason for this isolation; the BBC spin on this puts the entire onus on Israel to initiate diplomatic procedures.

But what is the reality?

1. He said Israel should restart peace talks with the Palestinians

Yes, and Israel has repeatedly stated that they are willing to negotiate without preconditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu said so at the UN. It is the Palestinians who are refusing to talk because they want Israel to  stop building settlements, the convenient excuse provided to them by the same President Obama who came out, at last, (nothing to do with re-election, of course) on Israel’s side on the question of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN last month.

But wait, the BBC acknowledges…

Israel has agreed to participate in such talks, but the Palestinians want Israel to stop building more homes for settlers in the occupied territories.

Israel announced last week it planned to build 1,100 more homes in a settlement in occupied East Jerusalem

So it is Israel’s fault because they are building homes. In fact the ‘settlement’ in question is Gilo which is a contiguous suburb of Jerusalem and would remain part of Israel in any final settlement agreement. Everyone knows that.

In fact there have been no new settlements, just additions to existing ones. And, as I have always wondered, if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas genuinely believes that settlements will one day be part of Palestine, then surely Israel is building his future state for him. The whole idea of settlements, love ’em or hate ’em, is a complete red herring which was never an impediment to ‘peace talks’ previously.

It’s also a convenient one – for the Palestinians. If Israel were indeed to stop building, why should we believe that Abbas won’t do what he did last time; Israel had a 10 month moratorium on settlement building on the West Bank (but not Jerusalem, granted) and in the 9th month Abbas said he would agree to talks only if that moratorium were extended.

So who’s stopping the talks? You judge.

The argument is ‘how can we negotiate with someone who is building on our land?’ But the point of the negotiations is to decide whose land it is. And wouldn’t you want to negotiate sooner rather than later if you believe that ‘facts on the ground’ are being changed.

2. …and restore good relations with Turkey

I have dealt with Turkey on previous occasions. Turkey wants Israel to apologise for the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara, pay compensation to the families of the IHH terrorists  who tried to lynch Israeli soldiers, and lift the maritime blockade of Gaza. Only then will Turkey restore relations with Israel.

So not only does Turkey want Israel to apologise for its soldiers’ attempt to save their own lives, they also want Israel to commit suicide by allowing Iranian missiles free passage to Gaza.

And Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan continues to try bully Israel and provoke Israel into an action which will provide him with his apparently sought-after military conflict.

So it is Israel, then,  according to the BBC spin, that must mend the fences with a country which not only severely downgrades diplomatic, military and economic co-operation but does so because it, Turkey, failed to protect its then ally, Israel, from assault by its citizens planning to break a legal maritime blockade (Palmer Report conclusion).

With friends like this…

3. … restore good relations with … Egypt.

Eh? Who’s responsible for this cooling of relations then?

Was it Israel who allowed the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel to be blown up six times?

Was it an Israeli politician who said that the treaty between the two countries is not necessarily valid for all time?

Was it Israelis who attacked Egypt’s embassy and almost lynched six Egyptian nationals?

Was it Israel who allowed its citizens to carry out a terrorist attack near a southern Egyptian town?

Was it Israel who childishly prevented the sale of palm leaves for a religious festival (subsequently sourced from Gaza, ironically)?

Who is it that has Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elder of Zion freely available, widely read and almost universally believed?

However Panetta did say:

As they take risks for peace, we will be able to provide the security that they will need in order to ensure that they can have the room hopefully to negotiate

Now that could be read as putting the onus on Israel. I read this as an Obama-ese way of saying “If you halt settlement building, we’ll ensure the security of the state post final settlement agreement”. The ‘how’ is moot.

It could mean, as the BBC spins it:

Mr Panetta said the US would make sure Israel maintained its military superiority in the region, but should use this advantage to press for peace.

It is rather ignorant to believe that military superiority will stop missiles and suicide bombers.

So it’s Israel who should make the first move, right? Israel has to make the concessions whilst it is obvious to anyone of any intelligence that the Palestinians just want one concession from Israel: Israel.

As long as that does not change, Israel will have no security and every concession strips it of another layer of protection.

Price Tag and the dangers of debasing language

On Sunday a mosque in the Bedouin village of Tuba Zangharia was attacked by unknown, but presumably Jewish assailants.

The Mosque was severely damaged. It appears highly likely that this attack was another in a series of attacks cynically labelled ‘Price Tag’ by Jewish Right Wing extremists.

Their avowed motivation is to make the Israeli government ‘pay’ for any actions this self-appointed group deems to be against the interests of settlers in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) or which this groups believes to be even the hint of a settlement freeze or preparation for eventual withdrawal.

Mainly religiously motivated, this group believes that Judea-Samaria is a God-given land which the Jewish people are not just entitled to settle but are duty-bound to do so.

The village of Tuba Zangharia is in Israel. An attack on any religious place of worship by Jews is extremely rare in Israel itself.

The Bedouin have a long tradition of support for the State of Israel, serving in the IDF. There is no logical reason, let alone justification for this attack.

Let me make this quite clear. This attack and all the others, wherever they may be, are shameful. I have written before about ‘ashamed Jews’ whose distorted view of Israel leads them to supports its enemies. I am a proud Jew and proud of Israel.

But I am ashamed of this action and those that have gone before.

Immediately that the attack became known the Israeli government and a consensus of MK’s across the political and religious spectrum condemned it utterly.

President Peres went with both of Israel’s Chief Rabbis and leaders of the Muslim and Christian faiths to the village.

This is what he said:

At the start of my remarks I wanted to express my profound shock from the horrible attack on the Mosque in Tuba Zangria which took place today.

 It is unconscionable that a Jew would harm something that is holy to another religion. This act is not-Jewish, illegal, immoral, and brings upon us heavy shame. I strongly condemn this horrible act in every language. This is not only a difficult day for the residents of Tuba Zangria, it is a difficult day for all Israeli society. As the President of Israel, during these days of introspection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I call upon all to denounce these terrible acts. These acts, destroy relations between us and our neighbors, and between the various religions in Israel.

 We will not allow extremists and criminals to undercut the need to live together equally in equality and mutual respect. Arabs and Jews as one. I am sure that the Israeli police and security forces will apprehend these criminals and bring them to justice.

 We must all stand behind them in an effort to preserve human dignity and respect for the law.

Both Chief Rabbis stressed that such actions are in direct violation of Jewish Law let alone human decency. It is actually one of the worst offences a Jew can commit. To damage a holy site of any faith is an offence against God.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar said, “The perpetrators have wounded the heart of us all.”

This is what Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said:

I came here to express my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people…

Seventy years ago the Holocaust, the biggest tragedy in our history, began with the torching of synagogues during Kristallnacht.

We are still living this trauma. And in the state of Israel, we will not allow a Jew to do something like this to Muslims.

And this is where I have an issue with comparisons to Nazis.

There is a superficial connection to Kristallnacht when thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses were burned.

But on that night in 1938 hundreds of brownshirts as an instrument of government policy caused, death and destruction, nationwide, on a huge scale on a host of trumped up charges against the entire Jewish community. Kristallnacht was the prelude to the Shoah and the one event that led to thousands attempting to flee and sending their children on kindertransports.

The series of events in Israel aimes almost exclusively at mosques is not government sanctioned policy and has been condemned in the strongest terms.

For any Israeli, let alone a Chief Rabbi, to compare these acts to Nazi crimes is very dangerous. Firstly it is not true. It is not true because however reprehensible this is, it does not compare in scale or intent to Nazism. Those responsible are a small minority. Germans in 1938 were not ashamed of Kristallnacht; they thought the Jews had it coming.

The denizens of Rosh Pina came out on a solidarity march to protest the arson attack. There was no equivalent to Rosh Pina in Nazi Germany.

Rabbi Metzger certainly did not intend to be helpful to antisemites, anti-Zionists and the extreme Left in Israel by using language they would approve of and use themselves.

What Rabbi Metzger did was to find the most extreme way to express how he felt about such an enormity, and so he drew from the Jewish experience to relate that feeling of empathy.

I believe he was wrong to use Kristallnacht. We have seen enough debasement of language by Jew-haters: apartheid, Nazi, genocide, holocaust, massacre, racism. All these terms are debased when the people who use them are often the chief practitioners and most egregious criminals such as Ahmadinejad, Hamas and Hizbullah. Their hyperbole debases these words and renders them useless. Just as Durban I, II and III debases the concept of Human Rights.

And the way the language is debased is to use the most extreme terms for each and every act which, mainly Israel, carries out to protect itself from the aggression of these same language-debasers.

I understand what Rabbi Metzger tried to convey but I believe he was wrong.

The government, police and army are determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. It is vital they do so and give them exemplary sentences. If they are let off lightly, as has previously happened, this will be morally obnoxious and damage Israel’s democracy.

In the JPost article cites below “Analysis: Jewish terrorism gaining steam’ Yaakov Katz, despite an idiomatically infelicitous headline, expresses his fear that the Far Right is gaining ground and their target is not always mosques but also olive trees and even on Left Wing activists.

The Israeli government and its people must act swiftly.

Yet again, I cannot agree with Katz’s use of ‘terrorism’. These people are politically motivated vicious vandals. They are not terrorists. When synagogues in the UK are smashed and daubed, this is called an anti-Semitic attack; it is not terrorism.

No-one has died and no-one has been directly attacked. This is about property. It’s an attempt to foment inter-communal violence. It is not terrorism. At least not yet. To call it such debases real terrorism and hands the usual suspects an open goal in which to justify their demonisation of all Israeli Jews.

It is sad, but predictable, that some members of the Bedouin village saw fit to degrade themselves to the level of the mosque attackers by torching public buildings in their own town. They fell into the trap laid by the arsonists.

In their natural eagerness to express their moral indignation, politicians, clerics and journalists must avoid confirming and validating the animus of those already minded to hate Israel and Jews.