Friday, January 30, 2004

What should I write about the suicide bombing yesterday in Jerusalem? That it was expected, so soon after the Gaza raid that was initiated and very well timed by the Israeli security forces and - of course - approved by the Prime Minister? That it can be hardly a coincidence that whenever the political or legal heat is turned on against our beloved Arik some action is taken ( that is, approved and/or ordered ) which is known to require some reaction from 'the other side', resulting in the disappearance of Gilad - or Omri S., David A., Ehud O. or one of the other crooks close to the PM - from the national headlines? That we cannot be sure anymore on which side we are, and who is 'the other side'? That the interests of 'our' not-always-so-extreme-Right and 'their' fanatics appear to be highly identical? No, I would rather remain silent and mourn ten new victims of the political opportunism and the struggle for survival and political relevance which have become the exclusive trademarks of the non-leaders of both Israelis and Palestinians. May their memories be blessed.
Reading this article ( about the harassment of leftwing Israelis, their friends and families by airport security officials ) left me depressed, angry and frustrated. What even depresses me more is the fact that I thought twice before writing these lines and posting them. I am totally serious.
Here is a picture of the Eiffel tower in red, taken on Wednesday evening:
Regarding "Paris fêtes China with red Eiffel tower and fanfare", IHT, January 26, 2004 ( published in IHT, February 3, 2004 ): Although I was one of those thousands who went to take a picture of the Eiffel tower cast in a beautiful red glow, I cannot help being amazed by France's hypocricy, criticizing the Bush administration for being aggressive and for its treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, while wining, dining and licking up to the president of a country which has been occupying a neighboring country for many decades and which has a human rights' record far worse than that of the US. For Jacques Chirac, not inviting a Nobel Prize-winning author - banned in his own country - to the Paris Book Salon and ignoring the human rights' abuses perpetrated by Mr Hu Jintao's government must have been only some of the small prices France has to pay for preserving its famous independence in international politics.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Adel Hussein received a month's reprieve, pending a High Court of Justice hearing on his case, after a petition against his expulsion was filed on Friday. With the publicity surrounding his and his son's story I am optimistic about Mr Hussein's chances of being allowed to stay in Israel. It surprises me that Interior minister Poraz ( Shinuy ), who normally is more than reasonable, decided that this man should be expelled in the first place.
On its English website today, Ha'aretz proves once again that it is one of the most important and interesting media in Israel, especially in English. In addition to the two articles that I refered to in the two earlier postings today, you can read at least three other interesting articles. One tells us about 'educational and human processes' that take place at a high school in Tel Aviv, another about an untra-orthodox artist who makes "sculptures of naked women that are imbued with an erotic, pagan, Canaanite character", and a third presents us with a portrait of a salt-of-the-earth Israeli family, where the parents are both unemployed but still have some financial means left to get by. Also recommended are analyses by Zvi Bar'el and Ze'ev Schiff about the possible prisoner-exchange between Israel and Hezbollah, as well as an article about a literary internet project. I could think of worse ways of spending some leisure time on a Sunday morning than to read all this. Still, it would be a crime to just sit and read articles on a computer screen with such beautiful weather ( at least here in Paris ), so after reading all or some of the abovementioned pieces do go out, stroll around alone or with family and friends, and enjoy some of the wonderful parts of our reality that will never be found online.
An agreement has been reached between the Claims Conference and the German government regarding some sort of compensation for the surviving victims of the so-called medical experiments carried out by Nazi doctors in the concentration and extermination camps during WWII. What is most important here is that a major effort has been made to find these survivors and to collect their testimonies, which will now be officially published and stored in Yad Vashem and other archives and research centers. Hyman Torenstein, one of the surviving victims, says: "The financial compensation is not important to me. But it's important for the stories of the victims of medical experiments to be published and become part of the history of the Holocaust. Eyewitnesses like me are getting old, and the world must not forget what they did to us."
I just read about a Saudi-Arab peace initiative which - if the report is true and there are not too many pitfalls in the proposal - contains all the elements of a peace agreement which Israel has always been looking for ( at least, according to almost each and every Israeli official since 1967 ). It includes: - declarations of peace agreements between all Arab states and Israel, ending the conflict - normalization, including the exchange of ambassadors - Israel withdrawing to the 1967 borders, - the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Westbank and the Gaza Strip - a return of the Golan Heights to Syria - a creative solution to the Palestine refugee problem. This is the most surprising and interesting part of the proposal: A combination of refugees receiving some sort of financial compensation and/or their absorption by the new Palestinian state and the other Arab states, on the condition that Palestinians will not make up more than 10 percent of the existing population. Israel won't be required to absorb any refugees. Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah deserves our gratitude and support for presenting this plan - already supported by ( not surprisingly ) Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan -to the US. If Ariel Sharon has any common sense - he'd better have, with the heat rising and his political standing being threatened at home - he takes this opportunity with both hands, and starts immediate negotiations with those Arab parties willing to discuss the plan. Unfortunately, based on previous experiences we could rather expect some assassination attempt against a Hamas or Jihad terrorist instead, so that all hopes of achieving any progress in whatever is left of a peace process will be gone and most attention will turn from the Appel-Sharongate affair to retaliation suicide attacks, retaliation assassination attempts and massive raids in the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank, retaliation suicide attacks etc. etc.
Yesterday I did find the flute-player who plays Hatikvah. Apparently it is the only melody that he can play, because I never heard him play anything else. I did give him all the coins under 20 Eurocents that I had ( about one Euro it must have been. I have a small hole in my purse, which is why all the really small coins fall out of it; I will buy a new purse this week ), and he said "shabbat shalom". I answered him the same, but when I walked away I thought that I should have said "Shavuah Tov" or "Gut Woch" instead, as it was already half past six in the evening. Maybe one of these days I will have the courage to ask him who he is and why he always plays that beautiful melody, which is so out of place in the middle of Paris. Right now I read Jews in France during World War II ( translation, by Nathan Bracher, of Renée Poznanski's Les Juifs en France pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale; Hanover/London: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, 2001 ) and I would almost say that I am starting to dislike 'the' French more and more after each page that I read. The treatment that the Jews - foreign and French - received from so many French officials and civilians during the war really makes me mad. Still, virtually all Jews - both during and after the 'dark years' - remained loyal to France and to what they insisted on calling French values. This keeps amazing me again and again. Most of my friends in Israel say "Why are you spending so much time in France, with all those antisemites?" It is not that simple, I believe. The French are not more or less antisemitic than the Germans, the Dutch or the English. What does characterize their 'national attitude', though, ( if such a thing exists, I am not analyzing the French psyche here, I am just making some very general and superficial remarks ) is a distrust - and sometimes outright hatred - of everything un-French and a more than average level of opportunism. You can see this in their foreign policy ( Iraq war ) as well as in the behavior of all too many Frenchmen and -women in the years of the Occupation, Vichy and the Libération. François Mitterand's life story is one of the most interesting and fascinating examples of this. On the other hand, of course, thousands of Jews in France ( about 75 % of them ) were saved, many of them because of the dangerous and dedicated work of non-Jewish Frenchmen and -women. One should not generalize about any people or country: generalization is one of the root causes of racism and anti-Semitism. It is just that France and the French ( not unlike the Jewish people, Israel and most other peoples and countries, obviously ) are so full of contradictions. Propbably this is what keeps fascinating me about the history of ( the Jews living in ) France.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Thanks to Adrian of Expat Egghead I read a very moving article in today's New York Times ( you probably have to folow a short registration procedure in order to be able to read it ) about only one of the absurdities of 'the situation' and 'the conflict': an IDF soldier, son of a Jewish-Israeli mother and a Palestinian father, who has to come to the rescue of his father, expelled from Israel to the West Bank as an illegal worker. On November 10th last year ( see archives ) I refered here to an article in the IHT/NYT about Muhammad Hussein/Yossi Peretz and his father, Adel Hussein.
Not very often do I give money to beggars who beg or street musicians who play inside metro trains or stations. Especially those beggars - often perfectly healthy looking gypsies or other people who appear to have their origins in Eastern Europe - who go around in metro or RER trains and give you a small piece of paper saying something like " I have no place to stay. I have two brothers ( sisters, children etc. ). Please help me to find work and to live in dignity in this society. may God bless you and your family." do not have my sympathy. Not only do they appear - to say the least - to be very organized, I also believe that if you really want to find a job, trains are not the place to be. Musicians sometimes do receive some small change, in particular when the train is not too crowded and if they play well and not too loud. Yesterday, at the Havre Caumartin/Auber station where I often change trains, for the second time I heard a flute playing the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah. This time I could not find the old man who plays it. The previous time that I heard him playing the beautiful melody I gave him one Euro. Even though I am not sure whether he knows what he is playing, this man deserves our support just for the ( possibly unintentional, but still ) courage of playing that melody these days in Paris.

Friday, January 23, 2004

On the website of Ha'Aretz you can read an interview, by Michael Handelzalts, with the actor, writer and director Stephen Fry. He has some interesting and quite well-balanced things to say about 'the conflict'. In particular I liked his description of the settlements' policy: "it is virtually an equivalent of `mooning' the Palestinians, it is so contemptuous and so foolish."
Zojuist heb ik een aantal CDs besteld bij mijn favoriete Nederlandstalige zanger-liedjesschrijver, Joop Visser. Ik had al drie CDs en een mini-CD van hem, nu zal ik eindelijk alles wat van hem op CD is verschenen bezitten. De schijfjes zijn heel vriendelijk geprijsd, en het leek me dan ook onredelijk om - ook al bestaat die mogelijkheid - kopieen te bemachtigen. Het luisteren naar en het op de meest vreemde momenten in mezelf zingen van Visser's liedjes zijn voor mij een erg aangename manier om mijn Nederlands niet te verleren, mocht de kans daarop ooit bestaan. Zijn woordenspel en visie op veel dingen vervelen nooit. Omdat Joop Visser niet naar het buitenland verzendt laat ik de CDs naar mijn broer in Utrecht versturen, ik neem ze dan mee terug naar Israel wanneer ik eind februari nog even naar Nederland kom. Voor uitgebreide biografische informatie over deze 'zinger' klik hier. ( De informatie op de website van Het Nationaal Pop Instituut staat onder de naam Jaap Fischer. Joop Visser wil om mij verder onbekende redenen absoluut niet aan zijn JF-verleden herinnerd worden. Ik vond het nogal grappig dat hij en ik iets gemeen hebben: beiden begonnen we onze academische opleiding bij de vakgroep Semitische Talen, hij in Leiden in 1957, ik aan de Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam bijna dertig jaar later. Volgens de website is JF zijn echte naam, Joop Visser een pseudoniem. Ik had altijd gedacht dat het andersom was. )

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In het kader van de publieke discussie over 'integratie' staat er deze week een uitstekende column van Anil Ramdas op de website van het NRC Handelsblad. Hij besluit zijn column met de woorden " Er zullen wel meer manieren bestaan om modern te zijn, maar niet in een en dezelfde samenleving. Als je voor een samenleving kiest, accepteer je ook maar de regels van die samenleving, door wie ze ook zijn bedacht. Dat klinkt niet geweldig sympathiek, maar het voorkomt tenminste verkeerschaos.", iets waarin ik me goed kan vinden. Zelf heb ik ook een artikel over het onderwerp geschreven, waarin ik een verband leg tussen het geweldsprobleem in de Israelische en de Nederlandse maatschappij. Omdat ik nog op antwoord wacht met betrekking tot eventuele publicatie van het artikel plaats ik het nog niet hier op mijn blog. Wie het opiniestuk alvast wil lezen kan me een mailtje sturen, ik stuur het dan naar hem of haar op.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Almost did I write "Mazal Tov!" here, but I just couldn't. Yigal Amir, the convicted murderer of Yitzhak Rabin z"l, apparently wants to marry one of his ideological allies, a divorced mother of four named Larisa Trimbobler. Although I cannot think of a legal reason to prevent such a marriage - something suggested by some parliamentarians and Prison Authority officials - Likud Knesset member Ehud Yatom pointed out something that did not directly come up in my mind. He said that this murderer should not receive the chance to procreate. Here's an interesting mix of politics, legal justice, human rights and ethics. Labor MK Eitan Cabel gave the following comment: "The State of Israel needs to let Yigal Amir the murderer rot in prison, and never let him marry. Amir is unworthy of associating with cultured members of a democracy, which he wished to destroy." It remains to be seen if Mrs/Miss Trimbobler qualifies as such: "The two began exchanging letters and speaking on the phone one year ago, based on Trimbobler's ideological support for the convicted murderer. Trimbobler was married when she first met Amir, and subsequently divorced so she would be able to marry him." I feel sorry for her four kids if it is true that their mother divorced in order to give them a stepfather who is one of the most hated and despised persons in Israel, and whom they will most probably be able to bond with only during prison visits.
More information about Reem Raiyshi, the mother-of-two/murderer-of-four. According to Hamas, killing Zionists is a good way for women who "violated moral codes" to repent and atone for their sins. Thank G'd we Jews have Yom Kippur, tsedakah, fasting and other ways of teshuvah for that.
Click here for quite a good and balanced editorial in Ha'Aretz on the Stockholm incident involving Israel's ambassador in Sweden and a controversial work of art.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Judah Ariel of Aspasia refers to Thomas Friedman's latest op-ed in the New York Times. My humble opinion is that this article ( which I post here rather than simply linking to it, since the New York Times requires you to register in order to be able to read its articles ) is one of the best and clearest pieces Mr Friedman has written lately. Basically, although Thomas Friedman's main criticism is aimed at the Bush administration, what he says ( something which I strongely agree with ) is that Israel should get out of the territories for no other reason than the fact that staying there weakens the country and endangers its continued existence in all possible ways: militarily, economically, demographically, politically. To do nothing ( the non-option currently chosen by both George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon ) is wrong and unwise, as it only serves the interests of those seeking Israel's destruction. Moral considerations are just as important in justifying leaving the territories, but these never seem to be exactly the main concern for members of the political and military establishment. War of Ideas, Part 4 By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN Let's not mince words. American policy today toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insane. Can anyone look at what is happening — Palestinians, gripped by a collective madness, committing suicide, and Israelis, under a leadership completely adrift, building more settlements so fanatical Jews can live in the heart of Palestinian-populated areas — and not conclude the following: That these two nations are locked in an utterly self-destructive vicious cycle that threatens Israel's long-term viability, poisons America's image in the Middle East, undermines any hope for a Palestinian state and weakens pro-American Arab moderates. No, you can't draw any other conclusion. Yet the Bush team, backed up by certain conservative Jewish and Christian activist groups, believes that the correct policy is to do nothing. Well, that is my definition of insane. Israel must get out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as soon as possible and evacuate most of the settlements. I have long advocated this, but it is now an urgent necessity. Otherwise, the Jewish state is in peril. Ideally, this withdrawal should be negotiated along the Clinton plan. But if necessary, it should be done unilaterally. This can't happen too soon, and the U.S. should be forcing it. Why? First, because the Arab-Muslim world, which for so long has been on vacation from globalization, modernization and liberalization, is realizing that vacation is over. There is not enough oil wealth anymore to cushion or employ the huge population growth happening in the region. Every Arab country is going to have to make a wrenching adjustment. Israel needs to get out of the way and reduce its nodes of friction with the Muslim world as it goes through this unstable and at times humiliating catch-up. Second, three dangerous trends are converging around Israel. One is a massive population explosion across the Arab world. The second is the worst interpersonal violence ever between Israelis and Palestinians. And the third is an explosion of Arab multimedia — from Al Jazeera to the Internet. What's happening is that this Arab media explosion is feeding the images of this Israeli-Palestinian violence to this Arab population explosion — radicalizing it and melding in the heads of young Arabs and Muslims the notion that the biggest threat to their future is J.I.A. — "Jews, Israel and America." Israel's withdrawal is not a cure-all for this. Israel will still be despised. But if it withdraws to an internationally recognized border, it will have the moral high ground, the strategic high ground and the demographic high ground to protect itself. After Israel withdrew from Lebanon, the Hezbollah militia, on the other side, went on hating Israel and harassing the border — but it never tried to launch an invasion. Why? Hezbollah knew it would have no legitimacy — in the world or in Lebanon — for breaching that U.N.-approved border. And if it tried, Israel would be able to use its full military weight to retaliate. Demographically speaking, if Israel does not relinquish the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians will soon outnumber the Jews and Israel will become either an apartheid state or a non-Jewish state. Moreover, an Israeli withdrawal will strip the worst Arab leaders of an excuse not to reform, it will create more space for the best Arab leaders to move forward and it will give Palestinians something to protect. In sum, Israel should withdraw from the territories, not because it is weak, but because it must remain strong; not because Israel is wrong, but because Zionism is a just cause that the occupation is undermining; not because the Arabs would warmly embrace a smaller Israel, but because a smaller Israel, in internationally recognized boundaries, will be much more defensible; not because it will eliminate Islamic or European anti-Semitism, but because it will reduce it by reducing the daily friction; not because it would mean giving into an American whim, but because nothing would strengthen America's influence in the Muslim world, help win the war of ideas and therefore better protect Israel than this. The Bush team rightly speaks of bringing justice to Iraq. It rightly denounces Palestinian suicide madness. But it says nothing about the injustice of the Israeli land grab in the West Bank. The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks and has not persuaded Israel to give up one settlement in three years. To think America can practice that sort of hypocrisy and win the war of ideas in the Arab-Muslim world is a truly dangerous fantasy.
By reading this article in Ha'Aretz one can get an impression of the 'selection procedures' and criteria used by Israel to choose those who should be the country's most prominent and effective spokesmen, and of some of the results of Israeli officialdom's favorite passtime, political appointments. Of course, we are all still blaming the media ( who, by the way, according to our most ferocious enemies are controlled by us Jews, but that is another story ) for the negative exposure we receive all over the world. Yeah, right.
Het volgende bericht kwam ik op Teletekst pagina 192 tegen. Eind volgende maand, vlak voor mijn terugkeer naar Israel, kom ik met de Thalys voor een weekendje naar Nederland. Ik zal goed uitkijken wanneer ik etenswaren mee terug naar Frankrijk neem. ROOSENDAAL Een Belg is tijdens een drugscontrole op de internationale trein tussen Amsterdam en Brussel met 250 gram boerenkool met hier en daar een beetje wiet betrapt.De man had voor zijn 'drugs' 200 euro betaald. Tot overmaat van ramp voor de Belg zat er volgens de spoorwegpolitie net te veel wiet tussen de boerenkool.Hij werd wegens invoer van verdovende middelen overgedragen aan de Belgische politie. Dergelijke miskopen komen volgens de spoorwegpolitie wel vaker voor.Vorige maand werd bij een controle nog een man opgepakt die voor 800 euro soepgroente had gekocht.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

This week our enemies proved once again their lack or total distortion of basic human values by sending a mother of two very young children to her death, useless except for the fact that she managed to kill 4 'Zionists' on her way to paradise. In a world where media exposure and public relations have become the main battlefield for many conflcts, Israeli officials have proven - not for the first time - that they are either completely unqualified for their tasks or that selfdestruction is what they are interested in. Instead of pointing out to the whole world with what sort of adversaries we are dealing, an obscure deputy defense minister is quoted all around the globe as threatening to kill a quadriplegic, and a senior diplomat provides an until now almost unknown and apparently selfhating Israeli artist with free publicity by doing something that should not be done by anyone with common sense and even the slightest spark of decency: destroying a work of 'art' ( de gustibus non est disputandum ). With such people - who bear a large part of the responsibility for the way in which Israel is portrayed in the world - doing the things they do so well, there is no use in blaming any of the foreign ( or Israeli ) media for the bad image the country has, nor for the positive coverage which our enemies are receiving.

Friday, January 16, 2004

This cartoon - sad and cynical but containing much truth - I found on the website of Cox & Forkum Editorial Cartoons.
On the lefthand side of this weblog you will find new links to two Israel-related blogs. Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam consists of several parts, one of which is his "Israeli peace directory", where he refers to several organizations and weblogs that share many - but obviously not all - of my ideas and opinions regarding what goes on in and around Israel. Although I do not pretend at all to aim for - or to have - any impact whatsoever on war and peace in the Middle East, I am proud to be listed on Richard's site under what he calls the "Mideast Peace Blogs". Aspasia, a three-man blog project created and maintained by Jonathan Dworkin, Paul Adler and Judah Ariel, contains interesting and entertaining postings, many of which deal with Israel-related subjects.
Regarding "Young mother kills 4 Israelis in suicide blast", IHT, January 15, 2004: When a young mother's wish to meet God in paradise is greater than her love for her two young children and her husband, and when one of the so-called leaders of her people defends sending her on her deadly mission by citing "purely practical concerns", calling it "a distinguished operation", it is not so hard to understand why Israelis truly interested in a just and peaceful solution to 'the conflict' have such a hard time selling their ideas to a more and more cynical Israeli public. Suicide bombings are not the result of economic and humanitatian hardship: almost exclusively they are carried out and encouraged by religious ( often Islamist ) fanatics, whereas most people who have faced not less - and often much more - distress, humiliations and poverty all over the world and throughout history chose more distinguished and successful ways to find a way out of their plight. The way in which - once again - the 'humanitarian approach' of the occupying forces was abused by someone who falsely pretended to need help will cause even more distress and humiliation for this woman's fellow countrymen and -women, which will result in more anti-Israel photo-ops such as the one accompanying this article. I truly hope that one day the love of all, or at least most, Palestinian mothers and fathers for their children will be greater than their hatred for the Jews and their wish to die and kill for the sake of a perverted version of their religion. That day we will see the end of the conflict.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

BlogSpeak is currently down. This means that - temporarily, I hope: I have been more than satisfied with the service it provides and hope it will start operating again very soon - no comments can be given directly. If you want to comment personally to me, you are invited to do so by e-mail. My address appears on the left.
Here's a recommendation for a beautiful German movie that I saw the other day on DVD. Comedian Harmonists, directed by Joseph Vilsmaier, tells the story of an ensemble of five singers and one pianist, who created a higly successful German version of some kind of barbershop-singing, brought them the status of superstars towards the end of the 1920s and in the early 1930s. Because of the fact that three of the six members of the ensemble were Jewish, they were forced to stop working together quite soon after the Nazis came to power in Germany. The three Jewish members of the group fled abroad, whereas the three 'Arians' continued their work with various other artists, without ever being able to recreate the original success formula. The movie presents us ( who know what happened in the decade that followed ) with a moving impression of the rise of state-endorsed anti-Semitism in Germany in those years, of the utter absurdity - and at the same time the seemingly logical inevitability - of the measures gradually taken by the Nazis against the country's Jews, as well as of the lack of apprehension - on the part of many of these Jews - of the seriousness and dangerous nature of the anti-Jewish policies and popular sentiments in the country. For comprehensive websites that deal with CH, their personal history, their music and the film about them click here ( German ) or here ( English and German ), a history of the ensemble in English can be found here.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Here are links to two articles - disturbing but very much worth reading - that I wanted to comment upon, but because I do not have the time to sit down and write something serious, you will just have to read them yourself. One is an article about Said Kashua, a Palestinian ( or Palestinian-Israeli ) author, the other a long interview with the historian Benny Morris ( part a, part b ). You are invited to post your comments here on one or both of the articles.
Regarding "New year, old theme: Chirac elbows Bush", IHT,January 10-11, 2004: It is interesting to see that of all national leaders it is the President of France - whose country's history of the 20th century provides us with both enlightening and confusing examples of the many different ways in which people deal with their country's occupation: resistance, accomodation and/or collaboration - who felt the need to teach the world that "The feeling of occupation always arouses, at every time and in every place, the same reactions."

Friday, January 09, 2004

Although I very much admired the work of the Chabad movement before I made aliyah, I got quite annoyed with the way they ( i.e. some members of the different Lubavitch communities in Israel ) mixed religion and politics in Israel, by publishing slogans like "Bibi ( Binyamin Nethanyahu ) is good for the Jews" etc. During the last years their political role has become less prominent, and most of them have returned to what they do better than most other (orthodox or haredi ) Jewish organizations: providing Jewish religious and social services to other Jews, without asking for financial rewards, just for the sake of fulfilling mitzvoth, and without all too explicitly judging the personal choices of those other Jews. Outside Israel that role has always been theirs, and for secular Jews such as me and my family - who do not live according to the whole body of halakha but who still want to preserve basic Jewish traditions and values - the Chabad communities provide vital services. In the suburb of Paris where we live, our infant son goes every day to a crèche maintained by Chabad, and on the holidays and festivals we visited the synagogue where the local Chabad emissary leads the community. Whereas at the other local Jewish community center the rabbi - without blinking an eyelid - told us that in order to attend the High Holiday services we had to pay quite a large amount of money ( "Ah, you are from Israel, then I will get you a considerable discount. Just give me 100 Euro." ) here nobody talked about money ( for the crèche we pay the normal fees, of course ), and we were welcomed warmly each time that we chose to come over. Whenever we will have to stay abroad for an extended period in the future, one of the first things we will check is whether the place where we are supposed to stay has a Chabad center, so that we can be sure that basic Jewish services are provided. Obviously I do not mind to pay in order to be a member of a Jewish community ( hey, keeping up a community center costs money, and somebody has to pay for it ) but I very much appreciate the fact that in all my experiences with Chabad money never was their first priority. For an article about Chabad's activities in the US in the last decade click here. The situation in the States is not the same as in France or Israel, which explains some of the friction between Chabad and existing Jewish communities in America.
Gisteren heb ik De Ondergang van de Familie Boslowits van Gerard Reve gelezen. Alhoewel ik niet echt een bewonderaar of bijzondere liefhebber van deze volksschrijver ben ben ik nog steeds erg onder de indruk van dit ingetogen en daardoor enorm aangrijpende verslag van de ondergang van een gezin, dat ook zonder de vervolging van en moord op de joden - door Nazi-Duitsland en zijn gedreven of onverschillige helpers - al niet bepaald door het lot gezegend was. Voor velen van ons maakt de context van het verhaal alles duidelijk, maar voor de meeste lezers die het verhaal onder ogen kregen toen het in december 1946 werd gepubliceerd zullen die context en de vaak subtiele verwijzingen naar het leed van de joodse Nederlanders waarschijnlijk minder vertrouwd zijn geweest, en de heer Reve is voor zover ik weet één van de allereersten - zowel onder joden als niet-joden - die dat leed zo intens en menselijk verwoord hebben. Vorige week heb ik De Avonden gelezen. Alhoewel ik me niet echt kan vinden in de lyrische bewondering die velen voor dit werk koesteren, geef ik toe dat Gerard Reve ook in dat werk baanbrekend te werk ging: het nihilisme en cynisme in De Avonden zijn elementen die maar weinigen zo openlijk durfden te uiten in het midden van de jaren veertig. Voor de liefhebbers van het werk van Reve is hier een link naar een blog waarop dagelijks een citaat uit zijn werk wordt gegeven.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Today five young Israeli men started a one-year term in a military prison for refusing to enlist in the IDF. Although I understand the problematic charachter of selective refusal, I have great sympathy for those who did their regular army service but who refuse to do their reserve duty in the occupied territories. Total refusal is another issue, and as long as Israel finds itself at war - for whatever reasons and under whatever circumstances - the country can not allow young men and women to refuse to serve at all, for conscientious or political reasons. Still, one of the arguments expressed by the court in order to justify its sentence seriously confused me. This period, the judges said, called for social unity, which was being undermined by draft-dodgers who were giving the country a bad name around the world. The social unity bit makes perfect sense, but do the judges honestly believe that it is these refuseniks who are giving Israel a bad name around the world?

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Today I read "Incident at Vichy", a very intense play by Arthur Miller. It has some very powerful moments and dialogues. In a mono-dialogue towards the end of the play ( a monologue which many readers probably read again after having finished reading the play's last scene ), one of the characters - a Jewish psychiatrist named Leduc - lectures Von Berg, an Austrian aristocrat, on what are basically the central subjects of the play: empathy or the impossibility of it, guilt and complicity: " I have never analyzed a gentile who did not have, somewhere hidden in his mind, a dislike if not a hatred for the Jews. [...] Until you know it is true of you you will destroy whatever truth can come of this atrocity. Part of knowing who we are is knowing we are not someone else. And Jew is only the name we give to that stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at like a cold abstraction. Each man has his Jew; it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews. And now, now above all, you must see that you have yours - the man whose death leaves you relieved that you are not him, despite your decency. And that is why there is nothing and will be nothing - until you face your own complicity with this...your own humanity."

Sunday, January 04, 2004

For some reason when I post something new that posting will appear either on http://yonathanbert.blogspot.com or on http://www.yonathanbert.blogspot.com, but never on both. As the URL address where the new posting(s) appear(s) changes whenever it feels like doing so ( sometimes it is the one with www, sometimes the one without ), you should try both addresses to make sure that you get the latest posting(s). I wrote to the Blogger helpdesk, hopefully they will fix the problem any time soon.
Via Bieslog werd ik attent gemaakt op het bestaan van een nieuw weblog, waarop Marc Gestel, een historicus met een meer dan gemiddelde belangstelling voor en kennis van de Amerikaanse politiek aandacht besteedt aan de Amerikaanse presidentsverkiezingen dit jaar. Het ziet er inhoudelijk allemaal goed uit en ik neem aan dat ik tot na 2 november regelmatig op POTUS 2004 ( President Of The United States ) zal kijken voor achtergrondinformatie over en commentaar op een onderwerp dat me erg boeit maar waar ik toch niet al te veel verstand van heb.
France's President Jacques Chirac might qualify for the title of Israeli citizen honoris causa. In a demonstration to denounce a commission's proposal to ban conspicuous religious symbols from state schools in France - such as the head scarf that many Muslim schoolgirsl wear - students outside the French embassy in Teheran shouted "Death to France" and "Death to Chirac the Zionist". Apparently Mr Chirac is a great friend of Israel, he just never has been able to express his inner feelings properly, and it took a demonstration in Iran to reveal those feelings to the world.
In yesterday's International Herald Tribune we find a portrait of Theodor Meron, president of the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague which deals with the atrocities committed during the war in the former Yugoslavia. What is even more interesting than this man's personal history ( although I do not really understand what Marlise Simons of the New York Times means with 'his Jewish youth' in Poland ) is his fascination for the dilemmas regarding violence and human rights as they appear in medieval chronicles and in the works of William Shakespeare.

Friday, January 02, 2004

In an article in Ha'Aretz we can read once again how all of us who would like to see the Israeli government end the occupation rather today than tomorrow are being lead by the nose by Sharon and his settler cronies. Those who use taxpayers' money to build a road to an unauthorized outpost linked to a group that - for whatever reasons - was placed on the US State Department's list of terror organizations cannot be taken serious when they claim that they will evacuate illegal, undefendable or other settlements and outposts. The settlers' spokesperson quoted in the article is absolutely right when he says that they are the law in Israel. They have the respected company of Gilad and Omri Sharon, David Appel, Shlomi Oz and others who have taken the art of corrupting and destroying a society that for more than fifty years has been characterized by already hardly kosher ways of conducting politics and government to new and unprecedented heights.
Regarding « Swiss who broke neutrality law to aid Jews can clear names », IHT, January 2, 2004: While I was reading this article two questions came up in my mind. First, why is it that the Swiss government and courts cannot on their own initiative pardon those who chose to honor basic human values and help victims of Nazi racial policies, and that these heroes or « their survivors » have to ask for such a pardon themselves within a five year period? Second, were those Swiss who broke their country’s neutrality by helping the Nazi perpetrators rather than their poor victims also punished by the Swiss authorities ? History shows us that in cases where innocent civilians become victims of an almost absolutely evil regime, neutrality – whether for reasons of military weakness or of sinister opportunism - often turns into collaboration with the persecutor.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

What should have been be my last posting of last year but because of some malfunctioning of the institute’s network has become this year’s first, contains a recommendation for a movie that I saw the day before yesterday. After our visit to my family in the Netherlands we brought to Paris some DVDs from the collection of my brother. In September, when we visited Holland during the Rosh HaShanah holiday, we also took some DVDs with us to watch, using our newly bought DVD-VCR player. I very much liked Gladiator and The Usual Suspects, as well as Guy Ritchie's Snatch. This time we took the following titles with us: Straw Dogs, Saving Private Ryan, American Beauty, The Pianist, Gangs of New York, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, one of the Austin Powers movies ( I do not recall which one ), a disc with the first series of The Young Ones ( with Adrian Edmonson and Rick Mayall ) and one with nine episodes of what for some odd reason has been dubbed the British version of Friends, Couplings. The movie that I watched first was Le Pacte des loups ( a link with nice pictures, for a comprehensive review of what in English is called The Brotherhood of the Wolf see this link ) ). This sometimes a bit pretentious but alltogether very well-made movie has beautiful costumes, quite some good acting, much action and an interesting storyline which is a mix of legend, historical facts and the creators’ imagination. As among the DVDs taken this one and the Austin Powers movie were the ones of which I had the least expectations, I am very much looking forward to viewing the other movies that we brought along with us. In February - when I will hop over to Holland just before I fly back to Israel – I will return the DVDS to my brother.