Saturday, March 29, 2008

Today we spent several hours in and around moshav Tsipori, near Nazareth, with two friends and their two children. The children had an excellent time, and we adults also did not really suffer. The weather was perfect and the moshav and its surroundings are beautiful.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The long-anticipated movie Fitna, produced by Dutch rightwing politician Geert Wilders, has been released online. At first sight ( there is an English and a Dutch version ) it does not appear to be more shocking or interesting, and only slightly more professionally made, than any of the homemade video or Powerpoint presentations that I received in my mailbox in the last 6 1/2 years. Still, I would not be surprised if these two cartoons by Tom Janssen depict the post-Fitna reality quite accurately. If they do, this whole story will become a classical case study of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"I could not have filmed it any better myself!" ( Fitna: Had again! Wilders )

"Boo!, Shame on you!, Revenge!, Shame!, Jihad!, Death!, Boycott!.... And now, the movie!"

PS: Please notice the scared faces of Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende in the first and of Mr Balkenende and his Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen in the second cartoon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Four more beautiful renditions of Hard Times Come Again No More, a 150-year-old song by the legendary American songwriter Stephen Foster. Long live YouTube! I hardly have any spare time left ( which is the reason why I have not been blogging seriously for so long now ) but every now and then I sit down for a few minutes and try to find videoclips with songs and artists that I like. Searching for clips of De Dannan I came across that band's version of this moving song, which I have been humming almost constantly for two days now. When I watched Cold Mountain ( this link refers to one of the most beautiful scenes of the movie, in my opinion ) I could not get the hymn I'm Going Home out of my head for more than a week, now that I think of that song I will be whistling and humming it again for some time. Maybe that way I will stop singing Hard Times. Anyway, enjoy. Nanci Griffith Robert Benoit Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Mary Black, Karen Matheson, Rod Paterson, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris Bob Dylan
Two wonderful ballads, performed and sung by De Dannan, Mary Black and others, apparently during one and the same concert. Enjoy. De Dannan - Hard Times Mary Black & De Dannan - Song for Ireland

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Arend van Dam's view on the 2008 Olympics and human rights in China, on the crisis in the financial market in the US, and on the recent elections in Russia.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hag Purim Sameah!

This beautiful picture, by Mayer Kirshenblatt, I found here. You can find the text of the Megillat Esther ( Esther scroll ) here in English, with commentary. ( Hier in het Nederlands ). For more information about the holiday click here.

PS: To my Christian readers: Happy Easter! Muslims celebrate Milad an-Nabi, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, on Friday. If my sources are correct this is the first time in history that Purim, Good Friday and the Mawlid fall on the very same day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This year the Purim theme for the decoration of our daughter's class in school was Origami. Don't ask me why. It is not that they did a special project on Japan, or that they were asked to come to school dressed in Japanese style, or something like that. Anyway, we asked my sister-in-law, who is Japanese and lives in Utrecht, Holland, with my brother, to write some words in Japanese that have to do with Japan, Israel, Purim, and send them to us by e-mail. She wrote words like Japan, Israel, clown, carnaval, king, queen, and origami, and sent them as a PDF-file. One of the parents printed the beautiful writings/drawings, and they were put on the class's wall together with oriental masks, a dress ( that is Chinese, if I am not mistaken, our daughter received it from her American granddad, I don't think that anybody here could tell the difference between a Chinese and a Japanese dress, I know I couldn't ), pictures of geishas, sushi, etc., a Japanese flag and a lot of clown drawings that the kids made. The Japanese writings really added some authenticity to the setting.

Normally you won't find any pictures of my children on this blog or ( as far as I have control over that ) anywhere else on the WWW. I did not see any harm in posting a picture of our 5-year-old son dressed as a Teenage Ninja Turtle ( don't ask me which one ), since you will have a very difficult time recognizing him. This year all the three of them used costumes that we borrowed from friends of ours. His sister was dressed as a nun, and his baby brother as an elephant.

Monday, March 17, 2008

When I hear and watch people like Angela Merkel talk, I always wish that our leaders would be able to recognize sincere and true friendship - as far as such a friendship is possible in ( international ) politics, with all its limitations and in spite of the emotionally charged history of German-Jewish and German-Israeli relations - and to understand that one should listen carefully to the advice of such friends. I would be highly surprised if my wish is granted this time (*). Still, kol hakavod to Mrs Merkel and the members of her government who accompany her on her visit to Israel. (*) Ahead of and during the visit by the German Bundeskanzlerin, our own 'leaders' could not think of anything more constructive and creative than crying oy gevalt because Mrs Merkel's mothertongue happens to be German, and telling the Germans to stop dealing with Iran alltogether. As if the Holocaust was perpetrated by a language ( and in one language only ), and as if Israel does not use Germany's contacts with Iran for its own interests.

Readers of this blog know that I have reservations about using the A-word, particularly when Israel or 'the' conflict is involved. This time, since as far as I am aware there was no specific event or incident that might have given cause for this portrayal of the US Democratic Party primaries by the very talented Dutch cartoonist Jos Collignon, I cannot think of anything but antisemitism that prompted Mr Collignon to make this drawing for the Dutch daily De Volkskrant. Thanks to Wouter Brasse for drawing my attention to this unsavory cartoon. Wouter and Ratna Pelle are two of a small and dwindling number of Dutch leftists who are willing to try and understand the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict from a perspective that is not automatically anti-Israel. You will often find them explaining and defending Israel in Dutch newspapers and on Dutch websites. Theirs is an important but often not very thankful job, I appreciate their work and their efforts very much.

Last year I dubbed Bar Rafaeli Barfaeli. In several interviews and articles she was quoted as reviling against Israel and Israelis, and she basically boasted about dodging service in the IDF. In that posting I quoted a rabbi who once taught me: "the Land of Israel pukes up ( or out ) anybody whom it does not want here". A DBI reader commented about Mrs R. leaving this country for the fleshpots of LA: "This is not such a bad thing for Israel. It seems to cough up its fools and knaves, not a bad thing for the rest of the 'gene pool'. Consider it a kind of pruning." Can anybody explain to me why this self-hating, anti-Zionist bimbo was an official guest at a reception at the Elysee Palace in Paris for Israeli president Shimon Peres? I am sure this was not an initiative from President Sarkozy, who by the way was spotted goggling at her curves ( which are impressive, though I would not be surprised if some surgical photoshopping was needed to make them that good ). How little selfrespect can we have, for %#*@&$#%'s sake? Normally I have much more respect for Mr Peres than for Bibi N., but I think that this blunder is much more deserving of a serious inquiry than Binyamin and Sarah Nethanyahu's trip to London during the Lebanon War. I would almost say that Ilan Pappe would have made a more honorable guest than Barfaeli.

Monday, March 10, 2008

An American friend of mine sent me this Hillary-ous picture, titled Hillary's Dream. All joking aside, like many others I do believe that a Hillary-Obama ticket might be a good idea.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The names of the boys and the young men who were murdered in last night's hideous terror attack at the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem have been made public. They are:
  • Yohai Lifshitz, 18, of Jerusalem
  • Yehonatan Yitzhak Alder, 16, of Shilo
  • Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld, 19, of Kochav Hashahar
  • Neria Cohen, 15, of Jerusalem
  • Roy Rot, 18, of Elkana
  • Segev Peniel Avihail, 15, of Neveh Daniel
  • Avraham David Mozes, 16, of Efrat
  • Maharta Tronoh, 26, of Ashdod

May their memory be a blessing. May all the victims who still remain in hospital - three of them in critical condition - have a speedy and full recovery.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, where tonight's deadly terror attack took place, is the flagship of religious Zionism. Most religious Israelis know somebody who studies or studied there. When I studied in Jerusalem ( also near the entrance to the capital, we later moved to the same neighborhood, Qiryat Moshe ) several of my friends and fellow-students studied at Merkaz HaRav, or went there for lectures and celebrations. The yeshiva is 'named' after its founder, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ( 1865 - 1935 ). The scumbags who sent the terrorist(s) who did this ( it seems there was one terrorist, who was killed; he reportedly is from East-Jerusalem ) knew very well what target to choose. Yeshivas are normally not well guarded, this particular one is relatively large, students who carry weapons do not necessarily stand out, and hitting this symbol of the world of the kipot haserugot ( the knitted yarmulkes, 'the' trademark of religious Zionism ) might very well trigger Israeli responses, either official or more private ones. PS: I couldn't help paying attention to one or two tiny differences between us and our enemies, differences that continue to remain unnoticed by most foreign media. Whereas Israel never deliberately targets civilians ( whoever claims otherwise is not worthy of any serious response ) Israeli civilians have always been the primary targets of the terrorists. Also, I do not remember seeing even one Israeli celebrate the deaths of Palestinian civilians or terrorists in Gaza during the last two weeks. Neither do I recall worshippers in synagogues saying thanksgiving prayers for those deaths. One of the first things that I thought, cynically, when I read about the celebrations in Gaza was: Islam is truly a religion of peace, and the Palestinians are its most peaceful prophets. But then I was reminded of the very striking speech by one of the English participants of last week's conference that I attended in Jerusalem. That man is a Muslim, and his speech was one of the most impressive and moving lectures of the whole conference. We should never generalize.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

This cartoon by Tom Janssen ( published on January 29th 2008 ) gives a very accurate picture of the way in which the debate about Islam, multi-culturalism etc. is ( not at all ) being held in the Netherlands. Geert Wilders only has to say anything about something, and immediately that something becomes a taboo, which nobody else dares to discuss. For months the movie that he is supposed to be making has only been a mere rumour, but it already has inspired Muslims in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan to call for the death of Mr Wilders ( and for the death of his fellow countrymen, and the death of the Danes; who knows, probably they called for the death of Israel as well: as if those arch-demonstrators have a lack of excuses to go out, breathe some fresh air and have a nice, civilized demonstration ). The movie/clip even has its own Wikipedia entry. This is the ultimate proof that the movie really exists. After all, Wikipedo ergo sum.

Joep Bertram's vision ( Winner ) on today's primary victories in Ohio and Texas ( and Rhode Island ) for Mrs Clinton.
Am I just a nudnik ( nag ) or is there something totally wrong in the following sentence? ( Ha'Aretz News Flash ) 08:39 Yesha Council, Defense Min. agree on relocation of illegal outposts (Israel Radio)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Here's one for all the Fat Fighters out there. This picture made me smile, I found it here.
As a Zionist, a politically engaged writer and former member of one of the IDF's elite units, Meir Shalev knows better than the average journalist or expert how to point out some of the main causes for the mess that we find ourselves in these days. Here he once more touches a sore spot, a spot that cannout be touched enough in my opinion: " We liberated our homeland, we returned to our holiest sites, we waited for the phone to ring, we let the settlers create today’s reality, and now the Golani unit has a new weapon – tear gas grenades. [...] This is how it is when the army is forced to take policing duties upon itself and an entire country is made to dance around the golden calf of the territories and settlements. " You do not need too much imagination to have an idea about what kind of feedback this article will receive, particularly from some of our staunchest 'friends' and 'supporters' abroad.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Jeff Healey - While My Guitar Gently Weeps

I am sure Jeff Healey - may he rest in peace - and George Harrison are jamming right now.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

It was only a matter of time before the UN ( and in its wake the EU, you will hear the word again and again in the next few days or weeks ) would start using the D-word to condemn Israel's response to ongoing rocket attacks against Israel from the Hamas-controled Gaza-Strip. I always wonder what those people of the UN consider proportional. Should Israel wait for 50 of its citizens to be murdered or maimed by terrorist attacks before it is allowed to kill 50 or more Palestinians? Would any other country not respond if it is attacked daily, with such attacks destroying houses, traumatizing thousands of men, women and children, ruining the economy of tens of communities, wounding and murdering scores of citizens? That relatively 'few' Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets is not a result of a lack of evil intent or effort on the side of the terrorists and their supporters. Each and every rocket is meant to murder and mutilate, to create mayhem and panic. Last week a Qassam rocket killed Roni Yechiah z"l, a father of four, while he was trying to get an education so that he could get back to work, after he had had a kidney transplant years ago. Earlier last month Osher Tuito, an 8-year-old boy from Sderot, had part of his leg amputated after being injured in a rocket attack. I am absolutely convinced that Hamas is trying to seduce Israel into responding forcefully and eventually into invading Gaza with ground forces. Not only will Israeli casualties rise that way - two soldiers were killed already in relatively small raids this weekend - but Israel's killing of Palestinian children and other civilians ( something that is inevitable when you carry out attacks in one of the most densely populated parts of the world ) automatically boosts Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and international support and sympathy for the Hamas-regime, which has been in a difficult political and diplomatic situation for several months now. Israel should not let itself be dragged once again into the lethal mud of Gaza, but it has to react somehow. That somehow entails violence, I am afraid, and although I have slight sympathy for Mr Ban and not too much faith in people like Olmert and Barak ( whose political agendas are dictated largely by Palestinian and Israeli extremists, not by their own political vision or conviction, since they do not seem to have any such vision or conviction ), I believe that it is up to the Israeli government to decide about proportions, not to the United Nations. Three more remarks about this issue. First of all, last night I watched the news, which of course had pictures from Gaza. I saw several men with bulletproof vests with the word PRESS running around with and among masked gunmen. Were those men real journalists? If so, wouldn't Israel be condemned in every possible way and in every imaginable forum if those man happened to be shot in the course of a battle? Don't tell me, I know the answer. Last week Israel's deputy defense minister, whom I normally admire and respect for his expertise and levelheadedness, was stupid enough to once more lug the Holocaust into 'the' conflict. Why, for heaven's sake? Do you really need the word Shoah when you want to stress that something is very, very bad? Wouldn't ason ( disaster ) have been enough? Not surprisingly the words Holocaust and Shoah reappeared in several headlines after that. Here and here are only two examples. For once and for all: when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is no justification whatsoever to use any analogy or language or to make any comparison that involves the Holocaust! Israelis and Israel-supporters should refrain more than anybody else from making such comparisons or from using Holocaust-related analogies or phrases. Readers of this blog know that I am very wary of using historical analogies and comparisons, they hardly ever make sense. I am not proud that I did the following, but since our enemies love to make unhistorical comparisons and to talk about proportions, i.e. about the numbers of victims, I used the calculator on my mobile phone to do some very rough calculations. Let's say that World War II lasted from September 1st 1939 until May 1st 1945. That is 68 months. Let's say that every month has 30 days. Thus WWII lasted 68 X 30 = 2040 days. If we take the number of Jewish victims of the Shoah, 6 million, and divide that number by the number of 2040 days, we see that on average during that war every day more than 2940 Jews were murdered. We should take into account that the systematic murder of Jews did not really start until right after the invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941. If you divide the total number of Jewish victims of the Nazis by 1380 ( 46 months X 30 days, July 1st 1941 - May 1st 1945 ) the average number of victims per day is almost 4350. I had a look at the statistics provided by Betselem. These statistics cover Israeli and Palestinian casualties of the conflict, from September 2000 ( the beginning of the second intifadah ) until January 31st 2008. That is 88 months, X 30 = 2640 days. If we take only the categories "Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces" ( in Israel itself and in the territories ) and "Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians" we get a total of 4528 Palestinians who were killed by Israelis in those 88 months. Let's ignore the fact that the vast majority of those Palestinians were "killed when participating in hostilities", or that in that same period 575 Palestinians were killed by Palestinians. If we divide 4528 by 2640 we get a total of 1,7 Palestinians who were killed by Israel on each day since September 2000. Every victim is one too many, and the conflict should not be about numbers, but you will have to agree with me that, given these data, using the word Holocaust, Shoah, or genocide to describe any aspect of Israel's policy towards the Palestinians is utterly "disproportionate and excessive". Finally, one short news item worried and angered me more than any other last week. I do believe that there is no military solution to the conflict, I do think that Israel should negotiate ( even with Hamas ), but with statements such as this one people like Abbas make it impossible for Israeli moderates to convince the Israeli public that there is such a thing as Palestinian moderates. Unless moderate - as opposed to extremist - is a synonym for pragmatic and more patient. It might become more worthwhile for Israel to do business with Hamas rather than with Abbas c.s. Maybe the words coming out of the mouths of Hamas-leaders are less pleasant to listen to than the phrases of Abu Mazen, but at least you know where they stand and what their words are worth, which makes it easier for Israel to decide on its own positions. As Nahum Barnea tells us, Israel has two basic options, and none of them is very attractive.
In recent weeks Joep Bertrams made three very insightful cartoons about the circus around Geert Wilders, his party ( PVV: Party for freedom ), and his plan to release a critical - to use an understatement - movie about Islam and about the Qur'an being a source of violence. Some of the problems with Mr Wilders are: he uses very insulting and polarizing language, he tends to exaggerate and generalize, and many of his proposals are ridiculous ( e.g. the Qur'an should be forbidden ). This is one of the reasons why - mostly out of fear of being associated with this weird crusader - virtually none of the other parliamentarians dares to talk seriously about any of the - often very real - problems that Wilders and the PVV bring up. All those issues have turned into tabboos and remain unsolved, and the rifts and frustrations within Dutch society continue to fester. Also, it does not really help that Geert Wilders is one of the most-protected persons in Holland today: because of all the security arrangements, for years he has been living in a bubble, without any real interaction with the public or with other politicians. Finally, he has never showed any interest in an in-depth discussion on any subject, communicating mainly through one-liners. Therefore, and for a few other reasons, neither the Dutch government nor the country's opposition know how to deal with Wilders or with many of the problems that are somehow rooted in or related to multiculturalism and the presence of a substantial number of Muslims ( only a small minority of whom is extremist, as far as I know ) in the Netherlands.

Political Landscape ( B4 = 4th Cabinet of PM Jan-Peter Balkenende; Oppositie = Opposition )
( PVV = Partij voor de Vrijheid, Vrijheidsbeeld = Statue of Liberty )

Last week our five-year-old son decided that he wants to become religious. At least he has a very good reason. At his kindergarten there are two boys from a newly religious family. Since lunch, served around 13.30 every day, is basari ( with meat ) those two cannot eat the custard or milk that the other kids eat or drink around 16.00. Instead they receive a sandwich with a kind-of-chocolate-spread that is parve ( neither milk nor meat ). Our son really loves chocolate, and since apparently you have to be religious in order to receive a 'chocolate' sandwich he thought that becoming religious might be a good idea. Our best friends, who moved to a mixed ( religious-secular ) village - we will go there for Purim probably - two years ago, are religious, so he knows a thing or two about what religious people are allowed, forbidden, and obliged to do. Still, he is very insecure and convinced that in Judaism the don'ts outnumber the do's by far, so he asks us all the time if religious people are allowed to play soccer or climb a fence, and whether this or that is milk, parve or meat. He insists on wearing a kippah, but he doesn't like to use hairpins, so the regular kippah that he has falls off all the time. Therefore yesterday - yes, Shabbat, we know, but it did not bother him - my wife took him to Daliyat-el-Karmel, a Druze village nearby where thousands of Israelis do their shopping every Saturday, to buy a Bukhari or Druze kippah. Now he has a beautiful big yarmulke. Of course, he did not wear it when he wanted to watch television yesterday afternoon. Today he will not have his chocolate sandwich at school: he has chicken pox.