Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pictures taken from the skylight of the Paris apartment that I rented recently. Because of the window and because I was unable to use my tripod the night photo did not come out very well, but I still like the view of the illuminated Sacre-Coeur.

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Hey! The exit!"

Artist: Tom Janssen

( I do not think that the second cartoon is entirely fair, the British have proven to be the most, if not the only truly, reliable ally of the Americans. Besides, if the Americans are sinking in the Iraqi swamp, their own government bears much of the responsibility for that, probably more than the government of Mr Blair ).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A new poll was added, related to this article on the website of Ha'Aretz.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

  • As much fun as it is to criticize Israel's police force, we tend to forget that our country's policemen and -women often work under basically impossible conditions, fighting crime and terror simultaneously. Since 9/11 that goes for police officers all over the globe, but here the threats are more real than anywhere else in the - or let's say the Western - world, and they occur on a daily basis. Today that fact was proven once again. Kudos to the men and women in the navy blue uniforms.
  • Although I think that the A-word is often misused and has lost much of its meaning and power because of that misuse and abuse, I agree with almost every word that Noah Klieger wrote in this op-ed article on Ynet: "Are the attacks on synagogues and community intuitions, desecration of cemeteries and assault of orthodox Jews an expression of 'anti-Zionism'? Was the murder of a young Jew wearing a skullcap and the attempted 'lynch' of another (both in France) carried out in 'opposition to Israel's policies'? Last month, half of Ukraine's population announced that there are 'too many Jews in their country' and that 'their numbers should be minimized'. Is this also anti-Zionism?".

Monday, February 19, 2007

This is how corruption is fought and how the people's trust in the symbols of state is restored the Israeli way. Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi showed leadership and integrity by resigning after his conduct ( as well as that of other police officers ) was criticized by a commission that investigated the role of the police in an affair that involved one of the crime families in Israel and a police officer who had switched sides. Minister for Internal Security Dichter immediately announced who will replace Karadi. Ya'acov Ganot, the current head of Israel's Prison Service and former commander of the Border Police, is an officer with an excellent service record, but only ten years ago he "was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and abuse of his position over three separate incidents in the 1990s, and while the Supreme Court, in a split decision, later upheld his acquittal due to reasonable doubts, it nevertheless sharply criticized his conduct. " I cannot find the exact quote of what Supreme Court judge Eliezer Goldberg ( who later became State Comptroller ) wrote at the time of Ganot's acquittal, but I can tell you that it hardly describes the behavior of someone who is supposed to lead the so necessary reform of this country's police force. The majority ruling said in 1996: " The quantity of incidents produces the appearance of corruption, but doubts remain as to whether these incidents crossed the border into corruption, and as to whether they crossed from the realm of disciplinary infractions into the realm of criminal offenses". Of course Mr Ganot is innocent because he was not proven guilty, but the legal record of an incoming Police Commissioner should be without any huge question marks, particularly in these days, when officials fall like dominoes on charges of corruption, sexual crimes and other forms of misbehavior. I agree with MK Ami Ayalon,who said that "a wide consultation, including the cabinet as well as professionals, should be carried out before the next police chief is appointed", but it seems that it is already too late for that. Apparently Avi Dichter already had his mind made up before Karadi resigned. Maybe this is just another battle in this government's war against the court system as a whole. After all, Olmert and the new Justice Minister whom he chose so carefully have more than one bone to pick with the judges of Israel's Supreme and other courts. In Israel, the fight against corruption is fought bitterly by the corrupt. What is really sad, though, is that new elections - as proposed by the rightwing opposition - will not solve anything. When it comes to corruption and misbehavior the politicians of Kadimah, Shas, Likud, Labor etc. are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Which reminds me, last week I bought The Annotated Alice ( together with Band of Brothers, Steimatsky temporarily offers every second book in English at half-price ).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

  1. One embarrassing episode of France's wartime and post-war history ( which is not the same as historiography ) has ended with the death of Maurice Papon.
  2. Robert Adler, an American-Jewish engineer and inventor who escaped from the likes of Papon before the war and who has changed or influenced the lives of virtually all of us, passed away. He was three years younger than the aforementioned French war criminal.
  3. It has been a successful year for Israeli films. An anonymous ( AK? ) commentator writes about Joseph Cedar's award "He must have made one hell of an anti-Israel movie". I doubt that. Few if any of the Israeli movies that are successful abroad are anti-Israel. On the contrary, they often paint a very realistic, human picture of the reality that we live here, and help outsiders to get a slightly better understanding of that reality, and of the problems, fears and difficult choices that we face on an almost daily basis. Such movies are a much better and effective hasbara effort than the empty, often defensive soundbites of most official spokesmen and -women, and they serve our cause many times better than the futile attempts by rightwing feedbackers to 'prove' that the whole world is against us, and that the world in general and Arabs in particular only understand one language. Awards such as those won by Israeli filmmakers in Berlin are rather proof of the exact opposite, I believe.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Yesterday I read this article on the website of Ha'Aretz, which said "French President Jacques Chirac has announced his support for lessening pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program, for fear Hezbollah will strike at French troops serving in Lebanon, according to information recently received in Jerusalem. According to reports, Chirac proposed sending a special envoy to Tehran to reach understandings that would protect the French soldiers serving in in the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL)." I have nothing against France and the French, on the contrary, and I know that many of France's soldiers were and are brave and very professional men and women, but I must say that the country sometimes gives the impression of being one of the least trustworthy Western allies. Looking for anti-French cartoons and jokes I came across this webpage, where the above composite pictures made me smile, no matter how hoary they are.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Geert Wilders en kornuiten zijn niet echt mijn politieke kop thee, maar ik kan me bij hun bezwaren tegen de dubbele nationaliteit van bewindslieden wel iets voorstellen. Hopelijk mogen bewindslieden wel zowel G'd als de Mammon dienen, anders blijven er volgens mij niet veel potentiele ministers, staatssecretarissen en -esses over, en niet alleen onder de kandidaten van het CDA en de Christenunie. Ik moest trouwens wel lachen om het commentaar van ene Geert uit Venlo op de eisen van de PVV: "Helemaal mee eens, en Limburgers dienen ook uit Den Haag weg te blijven!".

As part of my MA in Middle Eastern history I had to study Turkish for two years. Luckily in the first semester of those studies my wife made a short trip to Turkey with the teachers' union. There she bought me, for either $25 or $50 alltogether, hardback copies of the Oxford Turkish-English and English-Turkish dictionaries. Those dictionaries made life much easier for me for two years. Our teacher was a very interesting and awfully nice woman from - if I remember correctly - Azerbaijan. Just as with my study of Arabic I received excellent grades, but after I finished studying the language I never used it anymore ( I prefered to use my knowledge of other, European, languages instead ) and today I only remember a few words, a sentence here and there, and a little grammar. Still, when I saw the above picture I was able to understand what the poster said, although at first - because of the first word - I thought that it said something much more threatening. It says "Murderer ( Katil ) Olmert, buzz off! ( imperative from the verb defolmak, 'to go away' )".
This quote I received already long before I went to France. Reading it still puts a smile on my face.
Because of my absence I missed what I understood was a pretty scandalous speech of president Katsav, the conviction of Haim Ramon for indecent conduct, and the terror attack in Eilat. I returned home to see a new Justice Minister being sworn in. Although he undoubtedly is a legal expert the main criterium for choosing professor Friedman appears to have been his venomous public criticism, during the last few years, in the direction of Israel's court system in general and against the Supreme Court in particular. Dov Weisglas, a lawyer and personal friend of Ariel Sharon and one of the trusted advisers of both Sharon and Ehud Olmert, said in an interview, clearly very pleased with the appointment of professor Friedman, that the public seems to be more interested in the police chasing the perpetrators of 'classic crimes' such as murders and burglaries rather than bringing white-collar criminals to justice. Not being a legal expert, I disagree. For the security, stability and overall future of the state - and therefore for the security and overall wellbeing of its citizens - corruption, abuse of power, the decay of democratic institutions etc. are extremely dangerous. The corruption of society and the rise in poverty/crime/violence are not a cause and maybe not a result of but definitely somehow linked to the level of violence, apathy and corruption that we witness on an almost daily basis among those who are supposed to lead us. That is why I believe that white-collar and other crimes committed by high-ranking officials and politicians should be dealt with at least as harshly ( I would suggest even more harshly, but that might be problematic from a legal point of view ) as crimes committed by any other citizen. It is about time that elected and other officials here become aware of their status and of the influence and consequences that their actions have. Maybe Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi should be the other way round: a public figure should know that his behavior - at least as long as he is in office - ought to be beyond any possible suspicion. In the meantime, you can read some background information about the appointment of the new Justice Minister, including his very questionable comments following the conviction of his predecessor. Politically, I believe, the only points that Olmert might have scored with this appointment were gained among those enemies of the Supreme Court ( and of the rule of law's supremacy ) who will never ever vote for him anyway. The story that moved me most after I returned home was the death of Eran Almog z"l, the son of Didi and Major-General ( res. ) Doron Almog. May his memory be a blessing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

( "Unity"; the small print on the dollars says 'Saudi-Arabia' ).

The previous article is published today in the Dutch ( or rather Frisian ) daily Friesch Dagblad. It deals with the same subject as this excellent cartoon by Joep Bertrams, who works for the daily Het Parool.

Als het goed is staat het volgende artikel vandaag in het Friesch Dagblad.
Mekka – Gaza – Jeruzalem
Een groot deel van de directe berichtgeving over wat nu het Mekka-akkoord heet heb ik gemist, omdat ik twee weken in Parijs verbleef voor archiefonderzoek en genoot van een soort nieuwsquarantaine. Nu ik weer thuis ben kun je hier de nasleep van dat akkoord dagelijks in het nieuws terugvinden. Ik snap het gedoe rond de overeenkomst niet echt. Natuurlijk is het een overwinning voor Hamas en wederom een knieval voor Fatah in Gaza en de Westoever. Als ik daarover nog enige twijfel had werd die gistermorgen weggenomen. Ik hoorde en zag Jibril Rajoub tegen een Arabische interviewster zeggen dat niemand anders dan Israël de vijand van de Palestijnen is, waarbij hij de joodse staat danwel de bezetting ( ik luisterde met een half oor, terwijl ik onze jongste de fles gaf ) als een kankergezwel beschreef. Rajoub is altijd één van de meest pragmatische ( wat zeker niet hetzelfde is als gematigde, maar toch ) figuren binnen Fatah geweest, hij heeft goede banden met Israëlische en westerse veiligheidsdeskundigen en spreekt uitstekend Hebreeuws, een taal die hij net als veel andere Palestijnen in Israëlische gevangenissen heeft geleerd. Zijn broer is toevallig Hamas-activist, maar het gebeurt niet vaak dat je Jibril Rajoub zelf zulke aggressieve taal in de richting van Israël hoort uiten. Het is helaas nog steeds zo dat haat in de richting van de joodse staat de grootste, zo niet de enige, gemene deler van Arabieren en/of moslims in het algemeen, en van de Palestijnen in het bijzonder lijkt te zijn. Dat werd pijnlijk duidelijk in Eilat twee weken geleden. De zelfmoordaanslag daar, waarbij naast de zelfmoordenaar drie mensen omkwamen, was bovenal een poging om de Palestijnen, die tot dan toe elkaar naar het leven stonden, te verenigen in hun 'strijd' tegen Israël en de bezetting. Volgens de overeenkomst tussen premier Haniyeh en president Abbas zijn noch erkenning van Israël noch het afzweren van geweld aan de orde van de dag, en Hamas ziet zich nog steeds niet gebonden aan eerdere verdragen tussen de Palestijnen en Israël. Daarmee zijn drie van de voorwaarden van het zogenaamde Kwartet – Europa, de VS, de VN en Rusland – genegeerd, alsof iemand hier nog de routekaart van dat Kwartet volgde. Toch lijken mij zowel de desinteresse als de verontwaardiging die woordvoerders en andere vertegenwoordigers van de Israëlische regering lieten blijken, weinig zinvol en verstandig. Israël moet leren dat het niet kan bepalen wie er aan 'de andere kant' aan de touwtjes trekt, en het zou moeten proberen om op de een of andere manier het beste te maken van dat deel van de werkelijkheid dat de Palestijnen voor zichzelf bepalen. De regering in Jeruzalem kan slechts weinig doen om die realiteit meer naar haar zin om te buigen. Steen en been klagen tegenover de internationale gemeenschap heeft net zo weinig zin als het volkomen negeren van de overeenkomst. Wat volgens mij helemaal dom zou zijn is een grootschalige militaire operatie in de Gazastrook, waar kort geleden serieus in het openbaar over gesproken werd. Niemand, en Israël het minst van allemaal, zit op zo'n been-there-done-that avontuur te wachten. Het zou goed kunnen dat de boycot, door de meeste westerse landen, van de Hamas-regering zijn langste tijd heeft gehad. Of een zekere normalisatie goed of slecht ( voor wie? ) is weet ik niet, maar waarschijnlijk is ze wel, en Israël zou er verstandig aan doen daar rekening mee te houden en zich er op de een of andere manier mee te verzoenen. Ook zonder westerse hulp zal een door Hamas gedomineerde Palestijnse regering trouwens zonder al te veel moeite kunnen overleven: de Saoedische koning heeft door het akkoord aan prestige en invloed gewonnen, en zijn land zal nu nog meer dan ooit tevoren maar wat graag financieel bijspringen. Sommige commentatoren noemen deze ontwikkeling positief, omdat het een verzwakking van de Iraanse invloed zou betekenen. Ik vraag me af in hoeverre we hier blij mee moeten zijn. De tak van de Islam waartoe de machthebbers in Riyâd behoren is één van de meest conservatieve, en veel petrodollars die vanuit het Arabische schiereiland wereldwijd onder moslims verspreid zijn vonden uiteindelijk hun weg naar sommige van de meest fanatieke terroristen ter wereld. Misschien wil Saoedie-Arabië de invloed van Teheran verminderen, maar dat sluit heus geen samenwerking tussen bijvoorbeeld Hezbollah en Hamas uit. Jeruzalem heeft het jaar sinds de verkiezingsoverwinning van de Hamas verspeeld door steeds weer te herhalen waarom Israël niet met een Hamas-regering moet of kan onderhandelen. De tijd heeft nog nooit in Israël's voordeel gewerkt, en het is zaak dat Israël nu eindelijk eens bepaalt hoe het denkt dat een twee-statenrealiteit – iets waaraan uiteindelijk niet te ontkomen valt – eruit zou moeten zien. Ik vraag me af, gezien de afwachtende houding die regering na regering in Jeruzalem heeft aangenomen, of een Israëlische regering ooit serieus heeft vastgesteld wat Israëls minimale, definitieve eisen voor een onderhandelde vrede zouden moeten zijn. Op basis van zulke eisen zouden diplomatieke en andere inititatieven ontplooid kunnen worden. Helaas is de regering Olmert teveel bezig met de verdediging tegen aanvallen, politiek en juridisch, van binnenuit, en schijnt wat er aan gene zijde van de Groene Lijn gebeurt haar maar matig te boeien. Zo wordt niet alleen voor de Palestijnen de dagelijkse werkelijkheid in Gaza en Mekka ( en Teheran en Damascus ), en niet in Jeruzalem bepaald.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I added a new feature to this weblog. From now on you can vote in an opinion poll, which you can find in the righthand margin. I will try to change the poll on a weekly basis, and to keep the questions clear and not too biased. First let us see if and how it works. A reference to Vizu I found at Myrtus, a weblog that is worth a visit every now and then.
An interesting article about/interview with a fascinating Israeli academic, Elie Barnavi. In the article professor Barnavi talks about France, Holland, Europe, Islam and Muslims.

During lunch on one of the days that I was working at the archives of the Consistoire I took a walk in the neigborhood and made a picture of this plaque with my mobile phone, at Rue de la Victoire 16. It says "In memory of the students of this school, deported between 1942 and 1944 for being born Jewish, innocent victims of Nazi barbarism and of the Vichy government. More than 300 children from the 9th arrondissement were exterminated in the death camps. Lest we never forget them. May 28, 2004". Similar plaques can be found all over Paris. When it comes to facing the dark corners of their national past the French have come a long way during the last three decades, and some European countries could be taught a lesson or two by France in that respect. Still, notice the phrasing here: "...victims of...the Vichy government", an apparent continuation of the myth that there were somehow two Frances, one represented by Vichy and one by the Free French and their leader in London. Things were a little more complicated than that, I am afraid.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Here is a link to a very useful website,, where you can find the meaning of many, many abbreviations and acronyms in French. The French are very fond of using acronyms. During my last stay I used the services of the RATP on a daily basis to get to the AN, the BN, the FNDIRP, the AIU and the CDJC, in order to find information about organizations such as the CRIF and the FSJU. I found the link at this weblog.
This I did not read on the frontpage of major foreign news media: "The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) accepted on Thursday Israel's version of the events that concluded in an exchange of fire between the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Army at the border late Wednesday.UNIFIL patrolled the area around Israel's and Lebanon's shared border, photographed the site, and concluded that IDF troops operated entirely within Israeli territory.The Lebanese Army on Wednesday fired warning shots at IDF troops, claiming that the troops had entered Lebanese territory."

Although I am not a big sports fan ( and although I have to admit that I never managed to learn how to skate myself ) I remember watching large parts of Olympic, European and World speedskating championships. It is a beautiful sport to watch, and the Dutch have excelled in it for many years. Most of the Dutch champions whom I remember were and are very human and sympathetic sportsmen and -women, often without the cockiness of so many other young sport stars. Yesterday Ireen Wüst and Sven Kramer became allround ( 500, 1500, 5000 and 10000 meters ) speedskating Worldchampions in Heerenveen. If I had been in Holland I might have watched some of the races on television, now I just followed the results online. Kol HaKavod to these two very young ( both are only 20 years old, I think; Kramer is the current European allround champion, a former junior world champion, and winner of a silver and bronze medal at the Olympics in Turin; Wüst was junior world champion in the same year as Kramer, and she won an Olympic gold and a bronze medal in Turin ) athletes.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Iranians must have a great sense of irony ( or of timing: click here and here, two articles published on the same day on Ynet ).

Both in Holland and in Paris I really like to travel by public transport, I am quite fond of the Paris metro. Here is one of the things that I could do without, though: people trimming their nails in public. I do not see it very often but when I do it really makes me sick. Maybe I should be grateful that this man, sitting next to me on the Line 14, did not find it necessary to clip his toenails as well.
Aanvankelijk zou ik nog een keer afspreken met Olivier van Beemen, met wie ik via zijn weblog contact had opgenomen, maar ik kon geen tijd voor zo'n afspraak vrijmaken en heb alleen even kort met hem gebeld. Ik raad iedereen die belangstelling heeft voor Franse politiek in het algemeen en voor de aanstaande presidentsverkiezingen in het bijzonder aan Olivier's blog te volgen.
I have been home for a week now, busy as ever. I did not watch the two movies that I intended to see, but I watched two other nice ones instead: Little Children ( with Kate Winslet, one of my favorite actresses ) and Stranger than Fiction ( I had no idea what the original title was, in France it is named L'incroyable destin de Harold Crick ). Yves Duteil's concert was wonderful, although the location was in the middle of nowhere. It took me about 20 minutes to walk to and from the train station to the concert hall ( I have long legs and walk pretty fast ), and had to leave right after the final encore in order to make it to the last train to Paris ( according to the RATP website and the timetable at the station ), which turned out to be a bus. Thank G'd I more or less understand French ( I read it very well, understand it more or less and can normally make myself understood in the language ), otherwise I would not have understood the nice old man who told me about the bus at the entrance of the station, and I would have waited on the train's platform and missed the bus. The man asked me where I was from, and when I told him what I had been doing in Paris ( collecting additional material for two articles about the Algerian War ) he told me about his tour of duty in Algeria. Around 1 AM I arrived near my apartment, and went for a last drink to one of the better bar-restaurants in the neigborhood, where I sat next to and talked a bit with a friendly couple from Rotterdam. The next morning I left the apartment, and after having watched Will Ferrel for about two hours I took the RER B to Charles de Gaulle airport. Next time that I will visit Paris I will do my best to combine such a visit with a visit to my parents, not only to see them but also to fly home via Schiphol, which I believe ( like Ben Gurion ) is heaven compared to ChdG. It was good to be back in Israel again ( although I do not have to make any serious effort to find plenty of reasons to moan and whine about things here as well ) and even better to see my wife and our kids, but all in all I had a splendid, very productive and still quite relaxed two weeks in Paris, and if it is up to me this certainly was not my last visit to that amazing city.

Friday, February 02, 2007

In two days I will be going home already. I had a very pleasant and productive séjour de recherche. I managed to do even more than I planned, read some good books ( essays by Bas Heijne, The Fourth Hand by John Irving - I found a copy on the shelves in the apartment that I have rented for the two weeks -, a concise and good but not very well written Very Short Introduction to World War I, and now I started Total Control by David Baldacci ), ate well and had time to relax and enjoy myself. I watched Borat and will see two more movies this weekend ( probably one of them will be the History Boys ). I bought several books ( Very Short Introductions to Postmodernism and the Crusades, two books by David Liss ), DVDs ( one about Drancy, one with two films about the Shoah by Claude Lanzman, the tv series Band of Brothers with an extra DVD containing documentary material ) and received the complete version of Lanzman's Shoah ( 4 DVDs plus the book ) from a friend. I bought a lot of nice presents for our children and was able to meet some good friends and colleagues. Tomorrow I will probably visit some monuments, and in the evening I will attend the concert by Yves Duteil. Back at home a lot of work is waiting for me, and obviously I will be spending quite some quality time with my wife and children after Sunday, so my blogbreak is not really over yet. Shabbat shalom to all of you.