Sunday, January 29, 2012

His kind of people

Nikolai Blinov, photo: collection  S. Levitsky

In the early Twentieth Century, the throne of the Czar – all-powerful,  repressive ruler of Russia – started to shake, especially after he embarked on a war against Japan which ended in a humiliating defeat. The revolutionary movement grew stronger.  In an attempt to distract the masses, the Czar and his government adopted a policy of active anti-Semitism. Racist thugs moved from city to city and initiated pogroms against Jewish communities, with police and army standing aside to give them a free hand.

Nikolai Ivanovich Blinov was at that time a student in Ukraine, and like many of his fellows an avowed opponent of the Czar's regime. He went into exile in Switzerland and in Geneva appeared in a theatrical performance denouncing anti-Semitism. He married and had two children. In 1905 he returned to the Czar's kingdom and went from Kiev to visit his parents at his native city of Zhitomir.

On 23 April 1905, the organizers of riots and pogroms arrived at Zhitomir. The local Jews were brutally attacked, and though they defended themselves as best they could, dozens of them were killed, hundreds injured and many houses destroyed. Nikolai Blinov was not a Jew, but felt he could not stand aside. He and his friend, Doctor Binstock, walked alone and unarmed towards the furious mob. "Brothers! My people! The Jews are not your enemies!" he called out. "You are being incited against them to make you forget your real  enemies, your oppressors!" 

Those were his last words. The crowd started shouting "Leftist traitors! Socialists! You're worse than the Jews!". Nikolai Blinov was beaten to death, his friend the doctor lost consciousness and barely survived. Nikolai Blinov's mother found his body at the Jewish hospital where the bodies of the pogrom victims were gathered. In his pocket was a last letter addressed to her in which he wrote "I could not do otherwise." He was 24 year old.

At the memorial ceremony held two weeks later, at the main synagogue of St. Petersburg, the cantor called Nikolai Blinov's name together with the names of the Jews killed in the pogrom. The Zhitomir Jewish community erected for him a memorial plaque. But over the years his name and act were forgotten. Only in recent years was this heroic story rediscovered, ceremonies held at his grave and a professor at an important Russian University wrote a book about him.

In our region, too, a memorial ceremony was held. To be precise, the ceremony to Nikolai Blinov was held at the University Center of the settlement of Ariel. At a settlement enclave in the heart of occupied territory,  surrounded by walls and fences and well-guarded by a large military force, not far from where settler "hilltop youths" set out at night for "price tag" actions, setting mosques and olive trees on fire. There the ceremony was held, and Blinov's photo, found in an archive, was given a central place on the podium, and the speakers rose one by one to praise his valor and supreme sacrifice. 

And there was a guest of honor in this ceremony - none other than Knesset Member Ze'ev Elkin, government coalition whip, the man who in recent years pushed very hard indeed to get many and diverse pieces of legislation enacted. The law which stipulates three years' imprisonment without trial to refugees and migrant workers, and the law empowering communities to set up admission committees and refuse admission to Arabs and others who do not fit the social fabric. These and many others are inscribed to the credit of Ze'ev Elkin, the Guest of Honor. And Nikolai Blinov's memorial was widely reported on right-wing websites, side by side with the initiatives of the Im Tirzu movement to demonstrate and cry out against Arabs and against the Leftist traitors who are even worse than the Arabs.

Had Nikolai Blinov come back to life in today's Israel, would he have stayed at that hall in Ariel, amidst the clapping for Ze'ev Elkin? In my humble opinion, the man who was not Jewish and yet came out to defend persecuted Jews would have rather joined the Israelis who are not Arabs and yet come out to protect the rights of Arabs, and who were born here and yet help refugees and migrant workers, and who stand shoulder to shoulder with Bedouins and Ethiopians and Sudanese. His kind of people.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

National Suicide in three acts

Stay out of my bedroom  
National Suicide (1)

Many towers are concentrated in a single corner, on the eastern side of the Kirya  area of Tel Aviv. High in the civil government tower sit the Interior Ministry officials, who at their discretion decide fates, a residence permit to the one and a deportation order to the other. Across the street, the tower with a helipad on its roof is the Ministry of Defense where Army officers are running the lives of millions of people and define for the Palestinians the order under which they would live and send armed soldiers to enforce that order. And across the junction – the commercial Azrieli towers, with their shopping malls and restaurants and observation balconies, symbol of the flourishing  Israeli economy which leaves so many behind, the economy whose captains have no interest whatever in social justice, neither before nor after the mass protest of last summer.

A hundred Jewish  and Arab  activists gathered  last week  at the foot of these towers there, at the at the initiative of the Tarabut Movement, to protest the ruling of  the Supreme Court defining the reunification of (Arab) families to be "an act of national suicide". At the foot of the towers they stood and chanted protests and faced the burgeoning traffic on the roads with their signs: "Supreme Court confirms Apartheid", "No to the Supreme Court's racism, yes to family reunification", "It is not for the Supreme Court to decide with whom we shall live", "Family unification is not national suicide - national suicide is the denial of fundamental rights".

"I am Sumaya, Israeli citizen and resident of Ramle," said  the voice on a small hand-held megaphone which drivers whose windows were open could hear, through the hubbub and  honking.  "I am one of thousands of people who suffer from this law, and the Supreme Court justices decided that we will continue to suffer. Fourteen years I am living with my husband, who came from Gaza, and he never got any permanent status in the country. Each year he must extend the permit once again. We never know if this year they will renew the permit again or suddenly just cut it off. He is not allowed to work in Israel, he can't get a driver's license. After hearing on the radio the decision of the judges, my daughters asked 'Will they now deport Daddy?'. We have four daughters. I am a citizen of Israel, it is  nobody's business who I fell in love with and who I want to share my life with. By what right does the government enter into our bedroom? What right  have they?"

Foreign country, or what?
National Suicide (2)

So who are these people who want to come and live here with their spouses and children and are blocked by the Government of Israel and its Supreme Court? There can be no doubt, if one listens to cabinet ministers and Knesset Members and newspaper columnists speaking on the subject: They are foreigners, people from outside Israel, residents of "a hostile country or entity" who want to emigrate from their foreign country and come to live within the borders of Israel. And it is well known that every nation state has the right to define which foreigners will or will not be allowed to enter its bounders. Indeed, comparisons are made with some European countries where xenophobic parties were able to gain influence on governmental immigration policy and impose all sorts of limitations (though in none of them was any such piece of legislation enacted...)

No doubt, then: as far as those ministers and Knesset Members and columnists are concerned,  the State of Israel ends at the Green Line, and beyond that  line is another country altogether. No doubt? Actually there is very much doubt about that point, because the same people can also be heard resolutely declaring that the entire Land of Israel is ours by divine and ancestral right, that it is a good fine act to settle there and that Ariel and Kiryat Arba are Israeli cities just like Tel Aviv, which is why Israeli theaters must perform at their Halls of their Culture "just like everywhere else in Israel".

Indeed, when it comes to Israeli citizens (rather, Jewish Israelis) who want to cross the Green Line eastwards and go to live in a settlements or marry a  resident of a settlement, then it's not really a foreign country. They need not ask a special permit for family unification, in fact they need no permit of any kind. Also the very same Supreme Court ruled, just a week earlier, that the crossing  of the Green Line by an Israeli (Jewish) citizen, so as to set up residence in a settlement on the other side, is an act of daily routine of no special importance, indeed not disqualifying him from being a Supreme Court Judge. "National suicide"? What the hell are you talking about?

In short - when it serves a purpose the Territories can be a foreign country, when it serves another purpose they can be an integral part of Israel. When the settlers want to vote, then the Israeli Electoral Law applies and provides for them voting to the Knesset (but not their Palestinian neighbors, of course) . When they do not want to pay a minimum wage, they can declare without blinking that the Israeli Minimum Wage Law does not apply because 'the settlement is not part of Israel' (this contention, at least, the courts rejected ...).

Such zigzagging is no coincidence-it is a systematic policy.

When there is need to say that the occupation is not so bad, in fact there is really no occupation any more, the world is told that the Palestinians already have their own government and a parliament of their own and that they are running their own affairs. But when needed, the IDF can go to every town and village, at every time of the day and especially the night, and detain anyone they want, and bring them in for an interrogation under moderate physical pressure in the cellars of the Shabak Security Service. (Last week the Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament himself was taken from his home at a late night hour, another routine detention in a night of raids by our boys in uniform.)

When a Gazan needs urgent medical treatment, it is explained that  Israel disengaged from Gaza and is no longer responsible for its people and they have no entitlement to medical treatment in Israel, at the most a humanitarian gesture of mercy might sometimes be approved (provided the patient does not die in the meantime, while the topic is under discussion...). But when a ship or  even a small boat tries to get to the shores of Gaza, Israeli Navy ships hurry to block its way, as no one should be allowed to violate our sovereignty and our territorial waters. American and European activists who are taken off such Gaza-bound boats in the middle of the sea are brought to court and remanded in custody, on charges of "attempted illegal entry into Israel."

In short: eat the cake and have it.

The cat came, and ate the goat (Chad Gadya*)
National Suicide (3)

The determination that the reunification of (Arab) families constitutes national suicide was contributed to our public agenda by His Honor Asher Grunis - the man who is due to become the next President of the Supreme Court, under  a  special law to that effect enacted by the Knesset two weeks ago. Two ministers of justice, one after the other, had worked very hard to achieve this result. For years they waged a hard prolonged struggle, in daylight and darkness, the Knesset and cabinet and the media and on discreet committees and commissions, straining with all their might to force the judges and change the composition, until they came at last to this fine appointment. It was the previous Justice Minister, Daniel Friedman, who embarked on the task - and   his successor, the current minister Ya'akov Ne'eman, reached the finishing  line.

As he wrote on the pages of "Yediot Ahronot", former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman is very pleased with the new Supreme Court ruling, and of course he too thinks that family reunification is national suicide. If he has any reservations about the Court's ruling, it is in criticizing the judges on clinging to the argument that somebody from the reunified families might engage in acts of terrorism, and that they were too shy to state openly that they were protecting the demographic balance in the Jewish-Democratic State of Israel.  Entry of Palestinians into the country is in any case a serious danger, says the eminent jurist Friedman. Even if they use no violence and no terrorism, still  they may try to change the character of the country, and this too is a type of warfare.

Still, there is one aspect in which Daniel Friedman is a bit of a Liberal. Toward migrant workers he proposes a bit different attitude. "In my humble opinion, there should be no difficulty in the absorption of foreign workers and of their children who were educated in Israel. They want to fit in, they would not try to change the character of the state" writes Friedman, adding the clinching argument: "We can also expect them to serve in the IDF!". Well, who needs more then that?

It seems that quite a few people, including current ministers and Knesset Members, want absolutely nothing of the kind. Arabs are not wanted here, certainly, but neither are Blacks who are not Arab, and in general we have had enough of all intrusive foreigners. By the law which was also enacted last week, internment camps will be set up for tens of thousands of African infiltrators. There, they will spend years without trial until they get out of their heads any idea of integrating in the Israeli society. The refugees from the Ivory Coast, who are living here, already got a collective deportation order, effective immediately. Is the civil war in their country still going on, or is it really over? Would their lives be in danger if they returned? Who cares - fly out of here they must. And the African and Filippino kids who were born here and speak Hebrew, and who are simply begging to be allowed to join the army? To the airport with them, out, out, just get them out of here and be done.

And what about the Ethiopians? It has been officially determined that they are kosher, bona fide Jews. (There were some rabbis who thought otherwise, but they were overruled more than twenty years ago, and by now it is too late to try to reopen that issue...). So these Blacks came here in great  masses and got off the plane and immediately received Israeli citizenship and by now it had been decades and a new generation was born to them who speak Hebrew and understand Israeli politics and know how to organize mass demonstrations and protests against racism. On TV we see a resident of Kiryat Malachi protesting that she is being called a racist: "You don't understand, you don’t have to live with so many Ethiopians near you and smell their cooking and the value of our housing is immediately falling down. The worst is that when we have so many Black Ethiopians living here, also the Black Sudanese are starting to arrive. They know that the police will not know the difference, will not know whom to deport and whom not. It's just hell, it can't go on like this. "

One of the Ethiopians in the big demonstration against racism in Jerusalem told the press his experiences: "I was discharged from the army and I thought that now I was completely accepted as an Israeli. But at every workplace I applied, they saw  the color of my skin and told me 'Don't call us, we will call you'. The only exception was in Oz, the Immigration Police. They took me up immediately when I applied, gave me a job capturing and deporting illegal foreign workers. It's not exactly what I wanted to do in life, but a person has to live from something,  not so?".

And he has a friend who a job as a security guard for the City of David settlers at the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem. These settlers went to houses which the government declared to be Absentee Properties and threw out their Palestinian inhabitants and raised the national flag of the Jewish-Democratic State of Israel on the roofs. By now they are very worried that nefarious plots might be hatched by their Palestinian neighbors, and are in urgent need of very numerous security personnel to stand guard day and night at the barbed wire surrounding the houses. It turns out that the security personnel charged with settler protection has a liberal and non-discriminatory hiring policy. Any who applies for a job there can expect to be hired with no questions asked and regardless of skin color.

Speaking about bad smells, the Israel Railways decided to stop allowing soldiers to travel free by train on Sundays between the hours of six to nine in the morning, because on this day and at these hours all the soldiers go back from weekend leave and they all do it at the same time since they stand to be punished for being late at the camp. Soldiers set up an outcry and protest, as did their parents and some legislators and public figures. One citizen who travels every day by train  explained: "You don't understand,  the soldiers are making the train packed like a can of sardines with  the smell of sweat in the air. It's Hell, it can't go on like this". A soldier's mother speaking in the same radio program was very indignant: "My son has been serving his country for two years now. He stands guard at the Gaza border every night, to ensure that Palestinians won't penetrate into our territory. Is this the thanks which the country gives him?"

Further rounds of the 2012 Chad Gadya are certain to be played out –just stay tuned to the newspaper headlines.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chapters in a Tragicomedy

If the tall cedar tree is aflame, what can the lichen on the wall do?
(Fifth Century Talmudic saying attributed to Bar Kipok)

Chapter One

For the past two and a half years, the Foreign Minister representing the State of Israel towards the rest of the world is a settler, living in the Occupied Territories and thereby blatantly violating International Law, day by day. This is one of the reasons why Israel's Foreign Minister is not exactly the most welcome of guests in most world  capitals (though, to be sure, also the minister's personality and conduct have something to do with it). Year after year, there is an increase in the number of settlers serving as officers of the IDF, the army responsible for maintaining and expanding their enclaves.  Among other sections of Israeli society, there is less and less  inclination to devote a life to a military career... But the Supreme Court did not have a settler among its judges. Until this week.

By the "deal" agreed last Friday between the rival factions in the Judicial Nominations Committee, Noam Solberg will be one of the new judges  added to the bench of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, and it is possible that in the future he will also become the President of this court. Every morning His Honor, Justice Noam Solber, will rise at his home in the settlement of Alon Shvut on the West Bank near Bethlehem. He will enter his car and drive along the road which is reserved for Israelis only, directly to his new workplace in Jerusalem. On the way he will swiftly pass the long column of Palestinians waiting for hours under the blazing sun to be inspected at the IDF checkpoint. What, if one of these Palestinians would present to the Supreme Court an appeal because of the expropriation of his land and its being handed over to settlers...

Attorneys Omer Schatz and Yiftach Cohen presented, on behalf of "Yesh Gvul", an appeal to prevent the appointment of Noam Solberg. Gush Shalom – of which the  writer is a member - was asked to add  its voice to this petition.

The two lawyers noted that Noam Solberg, has at his own free will taken up permanent residence in the Occupied Territory, an act contrary to the morals to which a decent person can be expected to adhere. To settle in occupied  territory is a manifest violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention as ruled by the International Court in The Hague – a body which Israel's Supreme Court recognizes as the highest authority in the field of International Law.  Therefore, the settler Noam Solberg is not endowed with the integrity expected of a Supreme Court judge.

I would not be revealing a great secret in disclosing that none of those involved had nurtured any great hope that the petition would be accepted. Still, we were a bit surprised by the lightning speed with which the justices threw away this hot potato. Within a bare few hours from when the petition was filed, Justices Hayut, Fogelman and Amit gathered and rejected it unanimously and out of hand. They noted dryly that having examined the Basic Law on the Judiciary and the Rules of Ethics for Judges, they have found "no legal precedent indicating that the choice of a place of residence constitutes a violation of integrity in general or judicial integrity in particular". Clean and Pure the  new Supreme Court Judge Noam Solberg, along with his fellow settlers. Integrity is in no way impugned.

And International Law? The Fourth Geneva Convention? The International Court of Justice? In the ruling of three judges, they  were  completely absent, vanished into thin air. Present absentees. All this, even before Their Honors were joined by their new colleague.

Chapter Two

Benny Katzover is one of the founders of the settler movement. Immediately in 1967 he took part in the group of settlers who established themselves in Hebron and created a fait accompli.  Indeed, there was some obstruction from the military governor – who was rightly apprehensive that the presence of extremist settlers would make Hebron the permanent focus of tensions. Katzover and fellows had to make an appeal directly to the ministerial level in the then Labor Party government, playing on the power struggle between Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and his great rival Yigal Allon. Ten years later, when Katzover took part in attempts to expand the settlement project northwards into the Nablus area,  again good use was  made of contacts in the political establishment (including with the Defense Minister whose name was Shimon Peres). And later, when the settlement movement grew and expanded and became institutionalized, Katzover was elected as Head of the Samaria Regional Council. As such, he for many years got a salary from the state treasury and used his good contacts in the government (by then controlled by the Likud Party) to gain very, very generous resources and budgets allocated to a further expansion of the settlement project.

Throughout all these years, Katzover and his fellow settlers declared their loyalty to democracy. They angrily rejected any assertion that they were opposed to democracy or seeking to harm it. But not anymore. This week – as it happens, on exactly the same day when the Justices decided to take settler Noam Solberg to their bosom - Katzover made his position crystal clear: "I would say that today, Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow down before Judaism. All the events nowadays are leading to the realization that there is no other way except putting the Jewish issue before any other issue, that that is the answer to all the situation and the threats."

In other words: For forty years and more, democracy gave most generously to us settlers - abundant funds and lands expropriated from Palestinians and military protection at every step we took. We ate our fill and blessed democracy for all these nice gifts, and now that we're big and strong enough, we do not need democracy anymore.

If one regards democracy as being represented by the majority of Members in  Israel's Knesset, elected by Israel's citizens in free and eminently democratic elections, strictly, it seems that democracy in Israel is indeed about to do as Katzover asked.

Chapter Three

A few months ago Education Minister Gideon Saar sent a circular to the principals and teachers of the schools in Israel, in which he called upon them to educate their pupils to uphold and respect Human Rights. The principal of the high school in the village of Ar'ara took seriously the Education Minister's directive and took his pupils off to Tel Aviv, there to take part in the Human Rights March held on the International Human Rights Day.

But probably, that was not what the Minister of Education meant. Maybe he did not mean the same Human Rights which the Tel Aviv march was intended to promote, or perhaps he did not mean teachers and principals to take his circular that seriously, or that he specifically did not intend an Arab principal in an Arab village like Ar'ara to send Arab pupils to demonstrate. For when it is Arabs who speak of Human Rights, it might become a bit subversive.

Anyway, the Ministry of Education immediately sent a severe reprimand to the principal of the Ar'ara school. The Knesset Education Committee met to discuss this serious incident, and Members from the right wing  demanded the immediate dismissal of the notorious Human Rights enthusiast. Knesset Member Ghaleb Majadleh - who happens to be an Arab, just like the principal, and who knows him personally - got up to answer. And this defense by MK Majadleh so infuriated MK Anastasia Michaeli that she poured over him a glass of water. Immediately, all the media was filled with reports on the Glass of Water Incident, which completely overshadowed the issue of Human Rights education.

Michaeli's party, the Israel is Our Home Party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, felt a bit uncomfortable and rushed to dissociate itself and publish a reprimand of Michaeli. Tsk tsk, a Knesset Member should not pour water on a colleague, not even if he is an Arab.

But perhaps in the future MK Michaeli will be spared such dilemmas. Another Member of the same party, Moshe ("Mutz") Matalon, proposed a bill which would allow solely those who served in the army to be elected to the Knesset. If this bill is adopted (and nowadays, who can say just how far the majority in the Knesset would dare to go?), then in the next Knesset will be no Arabs. Nor will it include Jews who oppose the Occupation and for reasons of conscience are not willing to serve in an  army of occupation. Nor will there be Jews who believe that Torah study is more important than military service (a controversial opinion, but the IDF had given it considerable consideration since it was founded).

Moshe Matalon is the first disabled person to enter the Knesset in a wheelchair. In his legislative career since 2009 he was much praised by his fellow disabled Israelis, especially his efforts to introduce laws and regulations giving the disabled access to every location in the country and eliminate the barriers which exclude them.

But not to Arabs, and other undesirables...

Chapter Four

Lately the town of Kiryat Malachi is often in the news. Its favorite  son,   Moshe Katsav, rose to prominence and entered the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem. As is well known, from there he moved his residence for the next seven years to the Ma'asiyahu Prison, due to the  controversial things he did to women who worked under his authority and which the judges took very harshly, though many of his friends and  neighbors still consider him a hero - only targeted for his oriental origin. And just after the media completed its coverage of the journey of Moshe Katsav to prison, a new reason arose to re-direct the spotlight at Kiryat Malachi.

In recent years, an increasing number of Ethiopian Israelis have come to live in Kiryat Malachi, to which some other residents took a great objection. There were those who went out into the night and sprayed    on the walls graffiti expressing exactly what they think about the Ethiopians, using the most pungent expressions which colloquial  Hebrew borrowed from other languages ​​and developed for itself. And others acted also in broad daylight. There were the Tenants' Committees in four high rise apartment buildings who took action and established a formal Admissions Committee to which the application of any new tenant must be submitted. And the Admissions Committee formally and officially published its guidelines, namely "No Ethiopian need apply for residence".

And there was a great commotion which got into the headlines, and Ethiopians from all over the country rallied in their thousands and drove off to Kiryat Malachi and demonstrated and protested very loudly indeed, and with them also some who are not Ethiopians but do not like racism.

But basically, what all this fuss about? Why are the Ethiopian-haters in Kiryat Malachi to blame? Six months ago, the Knesset passed the Admissions Committee Law, empowering Communal Villages to set up Admissions Committees and exclude persons who "do not fit the social fabric." Why only Communal Villages? Why not urban apartment buildings as well? What kind of discrimination is this? So why can't the gates of Kiryat Malachi be shut in the to Ethiopians' faces? Are they less Black than the Sudanese and Eritreans? After all, just a few weeks ago, the government of Israel decided that stopping the entry of refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea and other African countries is in the supreme national interest of Israel, a purpose for which it is right and proper to spend huge resources on constructing  walls and fences and prisons, and to get the Knesset to pass stringent special laws.

Chapter Five

 "Thou shalt not wrong or oppress the Stranger, for you were Strangers in the Land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21)

A bit of relevant family history, before I return to the present of this country. During the First World War Galicia - then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, later part of Poland – was a deadly battlefield. Great armies passed though it back and forth, fighting and killing each other. It was most certainly not a pleasant place to be. All residents of Galicia suffered greatly, and the Jews there suffered even worse then the others, because war conditions gave a free rein to anti-Semites of all kinds.

It was at that time that my grandparents, Yehoshua and Sarah Keller, escaped from the flames of Galicia, and found refuge in Berlin, the capital of Germany. Germany was then considered a civilized and enlightened country, and after the 1918 Revolution which established the Weimar Republic it had a model Liberal and Democratic Constitution. My grandparents lived together with hundreds of other Jewish refugees and asylum seekers in a big, crowded building near the Alexanderplatz in the eastern part of Berlin. There, my father Ya'akov Keller was born in 1929.

Not all residents of Germany were happy with the fact that their country has become a haven for refugees. For example, at a rally which took place in the city of Hanover in July 1922, a minor local politician named Gustav Seifert got loud applause when he voiced a warning that the influx of refugees from the East was a time bomb and a serious danger to Germany. Who was this Gustav Seifert, and who were the people who applauded him? They were not complete  monsters. Just simple people, living through a difficult social and economic crisis, who felt threatened by this flow of refugees with their strange language and weird clothes, and who felt it just must be stopped. As the speaker on the podium said.

Gustav Seifert in himself was not any great political success, and his name remains an unimportant footnote in the history books. But he and many others joined a party which grew and gained political momentum and made to the citizens of Germany a solemn promise that the flow of refugees will be stopped, once and for all. The party gained a capable and highly talented leader, whose name became known across the country, later all over the world. And finally, this party came to power.

That was when my father was four years old. During the new government's first months in power, Jews in Berlin (as in all the world) celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. Supporters of the new government, who very much disliked refugees, came in the evening to the big crowded building near the Alexanderplatz and destroyed the Sukka, the ceremonial hut which had been erected in the courtyard. My grandparents came then and there to the conclusion that it would be better not to stay in Germany.

Indeed, the party which came to power in Germany at that time fulfilled its promise to the voters, and stopped the flow of refugees from the East. It fulfilled that promise very thoroughly - in fact, in a much more thorough way than most of the voters could have imagined when they brought it to power. By the time when that party ended its twelve years of tenure in power, many of these voters were no longer alive. But that's another story.

Chapter Six

My father arrived at this country with his parents in 1933 and grew up and came to adulthood in Jerusalem, and I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, and this week I was at home and late at night witnessed on TV the  Knesset voting and passing the law which says that from now on, anyone crossing Israel's southern border would be liable to three years' imprisonment without trial.

37 Knesset Members supported this law and only eight opposed it. 73 other Knesset members just voted with their feet. The heated debate continued deep into the night, and the comfortable hotel beds paid from the state budget beckoned.

Even before it was definitely enacted, Minister Aharonovitch instructed the personnel of the Police and Border Guards and Prison Service to prepare for the expected flood of detainees. Prison slots have already been prepared for fifteen thousand people, and the government approved funding to build more prisons and detention camps. All infiltrators will automatically get three years in prison. Refugee? Asylum seeker? Just a migrant worker? First of all, get him in the cell and shut the door on him, and then (if at all) look into who he is and what he is looking for here.

Would it really deter them from continuing to come here? That is far from sure. Certainly, three years in an Israeli prison is not a picnic. But many of the people who come here by foot from faraway Africa have undergone such horrors in the places from which they fled and also at various places along the way, that they may still would insist on escaping into our territory.

"We have no choice. We had to pass this law. We are the only country in the First World which Third World people can reach on foot," said yesterday morning the Prime Minister's Chef de Bureau  on the radio.

Indeed, it is so. Israel is the first part of the First World, the rich and successful and prosperous part of the Earth. Even the poorest in our country (and there are many of them, and their numbers increase every year) live a better life than the residents of most African countries.

A hundred years ago, this country was a remote province of the Ottoman Empire. A clear part of what is nowadays called "Third World". How did Israel manage to become part of the First World, a place which people from Africa strive to reach (even for three years in prison...)? Of course, our own hard work and know how and the quality of our workforce was part of it. But the State of Israel also received considerable help to get that high up on the ladder.

For example, the aid to the tune of three billion dollars per year, generously granted to the State of Israel over several decades by the generous Uncle Sam. Three billion dollars a year – much more than the aid provided by the United States to any country in Black Africa.

So why do they continue coming, these damned infiltrators who go thousands of miles on foot and do not flinch from the horrors of the way nor from three years in nice Israeli prisons? Maybe they're looking here for the dollars which America did not send to their country of origin?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

About Antisemites and Kindergartens

Several months ago, the social protest in Israel was at its peak. The crowds took to the streets and called for Social Justice. The Israeli National Union of Students was prominent among the protest leadership – the union as such, and most especially its chair Itzik Shmueli.

A prominent issue at the time was the "Baby Carriages Protest" of mothers demanding free kindergartens. And lo and behold, at this very moment the Prime Minister is proposing that the cabinet implements free kindergartens to all! A happy end – or is it? Not precisely. A small question remains - exactly where will the money come from?

The social protesters had called for a cut in the defense budget, and noted that providing social security to Israel's citizens is as every bit as important as providing external security. Three months ago the Prime Minister went on record with the opinion that out of the annual tens of billions allocated to the military, three billion can be cut without compromising Israel's security. But that was three months ago, an eternity in this country's politics.  Since then, participation in demonstrations on the streets went down. What went up were the  dire warnings by the generals - about the dangers and challenges posed by the upheavals in the Middle East' about the coming wars in Gaza and Iran etc.  In short, the Prime Minister announcing a defense budget cut is now definitely out of the question.

There was also a proposal to impose a special tax on the richest of the rich in our country. Not much, just two percent - it certainly would not have led them to bankruptcy. But at the last minute before it was to be  voted on in the Knesset, the tax on the rich just vanished, evaporated into thin air. Just what happened? Perhaps, once upon a time, the  Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance will deign to give an explanation. Meanwhile, the tycoons get to keep their money and keep defaulting on payments of their debts.

So, where will kindergartens be funded from? No problem, a flat budget cut will be implemented in all government funding, other social activities will be curtailed and reduced and the money transferred to the kindergartens. "That's not at all what we wanted and demanded" cry out the social protest leaders. "We did not want the blanket pulled from one side to the other, one social budget cut for the sake of another. We demanded a significant increase in all the social budgets!"

But this time, the voice of the National Union of Students is missing among the renewed social protesters. At the moment, they have more important and urgent issues to deal, world-spanning issues. In short, the union is engaged in mobilizing the students of Israel to fight antisemitism. Yes, a struggle against antisemitism. What a wonderful cause. And it turns out that nowadays, it is no longer needed to take any risks in order to fight antisemitism. You need not even leave your home. In this day and age, it is possible to fight antisemitism from the comfort and convenience of the student's own home. Just in front of your word-processor with a cup of steaming tea at your side and get on with the job, fight and fight and fight, detect and locate and map out the nasty anti-Semitic sites of which the Internet is full and pull the ground away from under them.

"This is our chance, Israeli students! Our chance to provide correct and balanced information, help in the fight against the de-legitimization of Israel and against anti-Jewish hatred in the world!" exhorted the National Union of Students in the manifesto addressed to its three hundred thousand members. And best of all, you don't have to do it for free. Each student committed to engage in the fateful struggle against antisemitism for a at least five hours per week over the coming year will in the end be rewarded and remunerated to the tune of 7600 Israeli Shekels.

The only remaining question is this: just who are the antisemites, and how can we recognize them? Over long periods in history, there had been no great difficulty in this regard. Antisemites used to be quite obliging and even the most simple of persons could easily recognize them on sight. But since then, things have changed considerably, and nowadays you often need to be an expert with years of exacting studies behind you in order to locate and identify the antisemites.

Indeed, both here in Israel and all over the world, experts of this kind  are hard at work, tirelessly increasing and extending the scope of antisemitism and often making brilliant careers in the process. They have searched out and located antisemites in all kinds of unexpected nooks and crannies. Indeed, quite a few people have been exposed when even they themselves did not know they were antisemites.

So, when it's so difficult and complicated to diagnose just who the anti-Semites are, how can a first year student, harassed with preparing for difficult examinations, develop the unique sense of smell needed to scent out the hidden antisemite?

No worry! The government of Israel is providing to all and sundry, free of charge, a comprehensive preparation course guaranteed to make you a world class expert on antisemitism at record speed. What exactly will be learned in such courses? Well, the precise curriculum has not been published, but we can get some idea from the remarks of senior cabinet ministers and government officials.

For example, this week it was published that Prof. Yaakov Neeman, Minister of Justice in the government of Israel, called "Haaretz" newspaper by the name "Der Sturmer", the name of the organ of the Nazi Party under Hitler. So here, at one fell blow was discovered and exposed a dangerous antisemitic newspaper which disseminates antisemitic propaganda in Hebrew and English, in Israel and all over the world. Which creates a wide opening through which other major and minor antisemites could be located and exposed.

For example, Ha'aretz (sorry, Der Sturmer) reported on a group of five hundred nasty and rude Israeli parents, who came out in outspoken opposition to the welcome educational initiative of minister Gideon Sa'ar to have Israeli pupils go to the pioneering settlers in Hebron and Shiloh and learn from them about the glorious history of the Jewish people. Students attending the special government courses would immediately understand that these are not Israeli parents caring for their children – no, they are nothing but antisemites.

And here is another breed of these nasty antisemites, those who oppose Israeli theaters holding performances in the settlements. They went so far as the absurd suggestion that there might be a contradiction between Habimah Theater performing at settlements built in Occupied Territory and the same theater appearing at a prestigious international Shakespeare festival. Because of these antisemites there is now an intense debate going on at the site of the Globe Theatre in London - certainly a place where courageous and determined Israeli students can show their mettle.

And yet another example - the British Internet sites attacking such a great and wonderful institution as the Jewish National Fund. They dare to question the JNF's well-known role in making the desert bloom. Rather, those antisemites assert that the JNF is holding on to thirteen percent of Israel's territory and is willing to lease them only and exclusively to Jews and to nobody else, and that this is explicitly set out in the JNF's regulations and bylaws. And they further assert that the JNF is sending bulldozers to destroy Bedouin houses in Al-Arakib in order to plant a forest where they had been. Only antisemites can come up with such nasty accusations against good old JNF, and even get 76 Members of the British Parliament to demand that the issue be debated in the House. Clearly, dedicated Israeli students must immediately wade in and disprove all these nasty lies, once and for all.

Who is still interested in Kindergartens?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"You have found the place of my shame, O King of the Kazars"

Yehudah Halevi was one of the prominent figures in Jewish history, a Rabbi, poet, philosopher and physician who lived more than nine hundred years in Christian Spain and Muslim Spain and at the end of his life in Egypt. A man who lived in the days of harsh and cruel wars between Christians and Muslims, in which the Jews were often caught between a rock and a hard place. He dreamed about the Land of lsrael and about a Jewish kingdom which would be established once upon a time. And he wrote beautiful and sad poems which centuries later would be taken up by the Zionist movement and set to music and are occasionally still heard on the radio.

Yehudah Halevi's masterpiece was "The Kuzari", a book designed to defend "the humiliated and despised religion" and to prove the superiority of Judaism over Christianity and Islam (as well as over Greek philosophy). And he wrote it originally in Arabic, which he and his millieu considered to be the language of culture in which was the appropriate language for religious and philosophical writings. Only later translated into Hebrew, it still is an important text of the Jewish religion.

It is written in the form of a dialogue between the King of the Khazars, an ancient people who lived in what is now the Ukraine, and the Jewish sage who convinced him to convert to Judaism and convert his people - an event which was already ancient history at Halevi's time.

In one of these sections (Kuzari 111 - 113) the Sage remarks that the Jews who live in poverty and misery, subject to scorn and agony and killing, are exactly therefore "closer to God than if we had reached greatness on earth".

But the King objects: "This might have been so, had your humility been voluntary. But it is involuntary, and if you get power in you hands you too would slay".

To which Halevi lets the Sage answer: ""You have found the place of my shame, O King of the Kazars".