Monday, January 28, 2013

Why Does Egypt Require F-16s?

The proposed sale of advanced F-16 fighters to Egypt increasingly concerns me. Here is the text of an e-mail that I have send my U.S. Senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer:
Dear Senators Boxer and Feinstein: Why does Egypt require advanced fighters such as the F-16? Egypt does not face a a military threat from any of its neighbors that would require advanced fighters. The U.S. and NATO provide sufficient air protection for Egypt from an attack by Iran. The only potential use of those aircraft is against Israel. Israel wants to preserve peace with Egypt and would never initiate an attack on Egypt. Therefore the only conceivable purpose for Egypt to have F-16s is to attack Israel. While President Morsi to date has not repudiated the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, he has on several occasions declared his support for the ultimate goal of Israel's destrution and openly supports Hamas, with its program of eradication of the Jewish State. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, like Hamas, have declared that hatred of Jews is justified and that the Jewish people should be elimninated. For the sake of the security of the United States and Israel, and for Middle East peace, please oppose this sale in the Senate. Thank you.
If you disagree, and see a reason why Egypt requires F-16s, other than to use against Israel, please let me know. However, if you agree with me, please write your Senators and member of Congress, and request that they oppose the sale of F-16s to Egypt.

Update January 30,2013:  UPI reports that an Egyptian state news official stated Sunday that the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by the United States during World War II.  As reported by UPI:
"The myth of the Holocaust is an industry that America invented," said Fathi Shihab-Eddim, a senior figure close to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi responsible for appointing the editors of all state-run newspapers. "U.S. intelligence agencies in cooperation with their counterparts in allied nations during World War II created [the Holocaust] to destroy the image of their opponents in Germany, and to justify war and massive destruction against military and civilian facilities of the Axis powers, and especially to hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb."
Shihab-Eddim went on to say that the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust actually emigrated secretly to the United States.

Tell me again why we want to sell F-16s to these people?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why Does Western Media Ignore the Palestinian Authority's Vicious Anti-Semitism?

Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi recently kindled a firestorm with the dissemination of videos of 2010 interviews on Egyptian and Lebanese television, in which he called for a boycott of the United States, attacked President Barack Obama as a liar on behalf of Zionists, extolled Jew-hatred and called Zionists "bloodsuckers"and the "descendents of apes and pigs."  Then, as reported by FORBES, he doubled-down in a conference call last week with United States Senators, in which he claimed that his remarks had been deliberately taken out of context because the American media is "controlled by certain forces."  And we all know who they are (wink, wink, nod, nod). His original outburst has now been condemned by the White House, the State Department and in editorials of major newspapers, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

I am grateful that the American elite media ultimately picked up on the Morsi story.  However, it begs the question of why the Palestinian Authority, through its television, newspapers and school books, spreads equally blatant and vicious anti-Semitism on a daily basis, and gets a free pass from the West.  Here is a prime example, courtesy of Palestinian Media Watch, broadcast January 1, 2013 by Palestinian Authority television:

"Faced with the Jews' schemes, Europe could not bear their character traits, monopolies, corruption, and their control and climbing up positions in government. In 1290, King Edward I issued a decree banishing the Jews [from England]. Following him were France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Italy. The European nations felt that they had suffered a tragedy by providing refuge for the Jews. Later the Jews obtained the Balfour Declaration [which called for a Jewish homeland in Palestine], and Europe saw it as an ideal solution to get rid of them."
Another example is the political cartoon above, which first appeared in a Jordanian newspaper, and was then broadcast on Palestinian Authority television.  It portrays the United States and Israel as plotting to divide up Somalia, in order to grab its oil.  Note how Israel is portrayed as a Chasidic Jew with a huge nose and earlocks.

(These examples refute the frequently asserted defense that Arab anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. Like President Morsi and the cartoonist, Arab enemies of Israel do not differentiate between Zionists and Jews in general. To say that a Chasidic Jew in traditional garb and earlocks is emblematic of Zionism or Israel is ludicrous; indeed, many such Jews are anti-Zionist. But that fact of course does not concern the likes of President Morsi, the cartoonist or the Palestinian Authority, whose true target is the Jewish people.)

So why does American media largely ignore the anti-Jewish propaganda spewing daily from the Palestinian Authority?  A partial answer is that our media do not consider anti-Jewish sentiments by Arabs and Muslims to be newsworthy--it's "dog bites man," not "man bites dog."  Indeed, when MEMRI initially released its translation of the 2010 Morsi remarks, leading American media ignored it, only picking up the story after being chastised by Richard Behar in Forbes, which gave the story heavy play. Mr. Behar actually resorted to writing, "Knock, knock, New York Times? Anybody home?"

But the larger truth is that American media, and perhaps Americans and Westerners in general do not expect anything more civilized from Arabs and Muslims.  This attitude is, to use understatement, patronizing and insulting to Arabs and Muslims.  It in effect assumes that Arabs and Muslims cannot behave rationally and reject hatred, bias and prejudice.   The presence of contrary Arab and Muslim voices (alas, still far too few) not only gives the lie to that complacent point of view, but demonstrates the real damage done by the media in giving a free pass to Arab and Muslim, and especially Palestinian, anti-Semitism.  The sane and rational voices in those communities can only be discouraged when they are disregarded, isolated and relegated to obscurity by the media, which treats their anti-Semitic opponents as the accepted and inalterable norm.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Have You Seen This Missing Person?

His name is Lowell Brown, also known as "The Hedgehog." He is the founder of The Hedgehog Blog and one of the co-founders of Article 6 Blog.  However he has not been seen at either blog location since just after the November 2012 election.  Friends fear that he may be despondent over the defeat of Mitt Romney and the defeats of the University of Utah football team.

Sightings may be reported here.  Lowell, please post one message to assure us that you are OK.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let the Games Begin: Bibi has his work cut out for him

Who ever said it was easy being Prime Minister of Israel? Certainly not Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.  His Likud-Beiteinu slate won 31 seats in the next Knesset (Israel's parliament), the largest number of any party.  Therefore he will receive the first opportunity to try to form a new coalition government.

He might try to form a coalition of right-wing and religious parties; a government backed by his party, the pro-settlement Jewish Home party (12 seats) and the two Hareidi (fervently Orthodox) political parties, the Sephardic party Shas (11 seats) and United Torah Judaism (a party advancing the interests and point of view of the Ashkenasi yeshiva and Chasidic sectors, with 7 seats) would control 61 votes, the minimum majority.  But that coalition would be extremely unstable. For example, there is no love lost, between Shas and the Jewish Home--the rabbinic leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, described Jewish Home as anti-Torah, even though its voter base is made up largely of Orthodox Jews.  That is because Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett favors curtailing the exemption of Hareidi yeshiva students from the draft.

Moreover, Jewish Home (joined by many members of Likud-Beiteinu) would try to obstruct any movement toward renewed negotiations with the Palestinians that might lead to a Palestinian state, which would pit the government against the rest of the Israeli political spectrum, a majority of the Israeli public and the United States.

Prime Minister Netanyahu might also try to form a broad-spectrum government, including Yesh Atid (19 seats), the new centrist party headed by broadcast journalist Yair Lapid, Labor (15), Kadima (2) and the Tnua party of Tzipi Livni (2).  However, Labor has loudly declared its unwillingness to sit in a Netanyahu-led government.  That means such a coalition would require another substantial party to reach a majority.  The anti-Zionist Communist and Arab parties (11 total seats) are out.  Yesh Atid campaigned on a platform of ending yeshiva draft exemptions and subsidies, so that eliminates Shas and United Torah Judaism as well.  That just leaves Jewish Home, which as noted above strongly opposes the willingness of Yesh Atid to renew negotiations with the Palestinians.

So there is no clear path to a stable Israeli government based on these election results.  Even if Bibi manages to cobble something together, one should expect new elections sooner rather than later.


This Saturday Say Happy New Year to a Tree

This coming Shabbat, from Friday sundown until an hour after sundown on Saturday, is the 15th day of Shevat on the Jewish calendar. The number 15 is written in Hebrew letters as tet vav, pronounced "Tu." Hence this Saturday is Tu b'Shevat.

According to the Mishna (Tractate Rosh HaShonah, mishna 1), Tu b'Shevat is the New Year of the trees. Not all trees, mind you. Newly planted saplings, for their first three years, celebrate their New Year on Rosh HaShonah, the first day of Tishrei, along with the rest of creation. A tree planted more than 45 days before Rosh HaShonah is considered one year old on Rosh HaShonah. (If planted later than that, the tree belongs to the next year.)

For the first three years of a sapling's life, halachah (Jewish law) prohibits the eating of its fruit, which are called "orla." Once a sapling has seen Rosh HaShonah three times (or four times if it was planted less than 45 days before Rosh HaShonah), it is considered a tree, and Tu b'Shevat becomes its New Year. Fruit ripening after Tu b'Shevat of its fourth year is permitted to be eaten. (In the Land of Israel, when the Temple existed, the fruit of the fourth year was brought to the Temple, to be eaten there by the owner of the tree and his family and friends as a thanksgiving offering.)

Tu b'Shevat is also relevant to the biblical laws of gifts to the priests (terumot), tithes given to the poor and the tribe of Levi (maaserot), and the agricultural sabbatical year (shmittah), because the year to which tree fruit belong depends on whether they ripened before or after Tu b'Shevat.

The Talmud likens man to the tree of the field. Just as Tu b'Shevat represents a time of renewal for trees, after most of the winter rains have fallen, so too Tu b'Shevat should remind us to renew and revitalize the pledges we made to God and ourselves more than four months ago, on Rosh HaShonah.

So this Shabbat, say Happy New Year to a fruit tree. And eat some fruit, preceded by a blessing of course.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Are High Taxes Driving the Wealthy from California? Just ask "Lefty"

In his typical frank and outspoken manner, professional golfer Phil Mickelson warned Sunday that the tax burden on his earnings may compel him to leave his home state of California. Speaking after Sunday's Humana Challenge, "Lefty" noted:

"If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate's 62, 63 percent. So I've got to make some decisions on what I'm going to do."
Phil Mickelson is not an evil person.  To the contrary, he is a model citizen and PGA role model, well known for his charitable giving.  But it is only natural that a person wants to protect as much of his or her earnings as possible from taxes.  If Mr. Mickelson can save 9% or more of his annual income by moving to Florida or Texas, he will do so.

This is why taxing the rich, while red meat for the liberal base of the Democratic Party, turns out ultimately to be self-defeating in terms of increasing government revenues.  And this is not just a California issue, but a national one as well.  I remember back in the days of confiscatory federal income tax rates for high-income brackets how many Holllywood celebrities took up residence in Europe or other tax havens to protect their earnings.  I predict that the exodus from California and the U.S. will include many of the same entertainment industry figures who loudly echo the calls to tax the rich.  And believe me, it will not be the likes of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates who feel the pinch, but rather the upper middle class professional who can't readily relocate his business and residence. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why is Mali different from Gaza?

Please do not misunderstand me.  I totally support France's armed intervention in Mali and any support the United States gives to France in that effort.

Still, one wonders:  Why do France and the United States view France as justified in using armed force to expel Islamist militias from Mali, but both countries oppose an Israeli invasion of Gaza to do the same?

Have any rockets, missiles and artillery been launched at France from Mali?  Islamist militias in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets and shells at Israeli cities and towns.

Have the Islamists in Mali declared that their goal is to eliminate the French nation?  Hamas and its Islamist allies have repeatedly said that their ultimate goal is the elimination of the State of Israel and the physical eradication of the Jewish people.

Are the French planes and French soldiers armed with some wondrous new bombs and bullets that only harm combatants, without any risk of civilian casualties?  If not, why demand the same of the Israel Defense Forces, which have gone to greater lengths to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza than any military in any campaign in history?

Just wondering.  In the meantime, as far as its Mali venture is concerned, viva la victorie and viva la France!

What Chuck Hagel Ought to Know About "the Jewish Lobby"

Professor Ruth Wisse, in the Wall Street Journal, explains what the "Jewish Lobby" understands about the true nature of anti-Israel animus, which Secretary of Defense designate Chuck Hagel apparently misses.  Israel is the proxy target of those in the Arab and Islamic world who oppose "all that Israel represents—religious pluralism, individual rights and freedoms, liberal democracy, and Western ideas of progress."

Israeli Electoral Guide for the Perplexed

Guide to the Perplexed is the 12th century apologetic written by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (also known as "Maimonedes" or the "RamBam") in an effort to persuade assimilated Jews exposed to the Aristotelian-Islamic-Christian science and philosophy of the day of the truth of Torah Judaism.  The RamBam was himself a scientist, philosopher and physician in Spain, North Africa and Egypt (his most famous patient having been Salachdin), very much schooled in what Jews of the day called "Greek science," and he sought to convince his readers that the modern science of the 12th century presented no conflict with the Torah. The science may have changed, but the conflict prevails, and many rabbis and scholars still produce works that try to accomplish the RamBam's objective.

Many people find the Israeli electoral system, with its diversity of political parties, as perplexing as the efforts by assimilated, educated Spanish Jews of the 12th century to reconcile Aristotle with Torah Judaism.  To assist them in coping with the upcoming Israeli Knesset elections, Ben Sales at JTA has written a short electoral Guide to the Perplexed.  It admirably allocates the major players among the 34 parties participating in the elections among 5 blocks: right, center, left, Haredi Orthodox and Arab parties.

(Of course such divisions are generalities and break down when applied to individual voters.  There are Arabs who vote for, and are candidates for the Knesset on the lists of non-Arab parties.  Some Haredi Orthodox vote for the secular parties, and many Sefardic Jews who are not Haredi nonetheless vote for the Haredi Orthodox party called Shas, out of ethnic solidarity.)

Mr. Sales also acquaints the reader with some leading politicians from each camp.  All in all, it is a job well done.

However, I can do better. Here is all that one needs to know about the Israeli elections:

1. Israel has a parliamentary system, and all Knesset members run at large, not to represent a particular district. Therefore each voter casts a ballot for a party, not a candidate.

2. As far as I know, no party has ever won a majority of the seats in the Knesset (61). Therefore, following the election, the President of Israel (who is now Shimon Peres) offers the first opportunity to form a government to the leader of the party who, in the President's opinion, has the best chance of forming a ruling coalition. The party leader designated by the President may or may not be the leader of the party that has won the most seats in the Knesset (which gives the center left an edge, since President Peres, a left-winger, could give, say, Shelly Yachimovich of Labor, the first chance to form a government even if Bibi Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu list wins the most Knesset seats).

3. Once the President has authorized a party leader to try to form a government, the real fun begins.  The chosen party leader is given a set period of time to form a government. If he is successful in putting together a coalition agreement within that time frame, Israel has a government. If not, the President can give him an extension or turn to another party leader. This post-election process can last for weeks or months and the bargaining process is not pretty. Small parties with only a few seats in the Knesset can demand all sorts of legistlation, perks and offices in return for joining, or at least not actively opposing, a government in formation.

4. But here is the bottom line: At the end of the day, when the cigar smoke clears from those smoke-filled rooms, Benjamin Netanyahu will still be Prime Minister, at the head of a right-center coalition.

Happy Elections, people of Israel.  Democracy in Israel may not be pretty, but it sure beats anything any of your neighbors have produced.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fouad Ajami: U.S. is Bystander in Struggle for the Fertile Crescent

This past Sunday's Wall Street Journal opinion page features a column by Professor Fouad Ajami, called "Struggle for the Fertile Crescent."  It places the ongoing civil strife in Syria in context with the overall struggle among Shiites, Sunnis, Alawites and Kurds for control of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.  The main event is the fight between Shiites and Sunnis.  It involves not only the local peoples, but also Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the Sunni side, and Iran and Hezbollah behind the Shiite forces.   Professor Ajami writes:

This is a Sunni-Shiite fight, but religious devotion is not the measure of things. This is a very worldly grab for power and wealth and trade routes, and it is fought without sentimentalism or scruples.
And where is the United States in all this?  Our country plays no role and exerts virtually no influence.  Professor Ajami asserts that this situation results in part from the passive attitude displayed by the Obama Administration in its first term, especially in its failure to leave a residual  U.S. military force in Iraq, and augmented by its failed courtship in 2009-10 of the Assad regime in Syria, in which Senator and Secretary of State-designate John Kerry played a major role.

The piece is illustrated by the brilliant political cartoon by David Klein posted above.

Of course, the Obama Administration would argue that Professor Ajami has it all wrong.  It has been actively engaged in leadership from behind, protecting our diplomats in Libya, and addressing the true threat to peace in the Middle East, the construction of apartments in Israel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen" Now Off-Limits for Jews?

On December 17, 2012, the Simon Wiesental Center issued a travel advisory for Copehagen and Denmark, following a warning by the Israeli Ambassador to Denmark, advising Israelis not to wear kippot, jewelry with religious symbols, or to speak Hebrew on the streets of the Danish capital. The advisory follows reports of physical attacks on Jews in Copenhagen.  Men who visit Copenhagen's Great Synagogue (pictured above) are warned not to put on a kippah (yamulke) until they actually enter the synagogue.

The necessity of issuing such a warning is a very sad, black mark on the history of Denmark, particularly in light of the manner in which Denmark protected its Jewish population from Nazi persecution in World War II.  As noted by the Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Abraham Cooper:
“World Jewry remains deeply grateful to the people of Denmark, who throughout Nazi occupation during WWII treated their fellow Jewish citizens as equals. And in unparalleled acts of courage and humanity, Danes saved all 7,500 Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis by spiriting them out to neutral Sweden.”
The Danish rescue efforts culminated in October 1943, following an order by Adolph Hitler to arrest all Danish Jews and deport them to the labor and death camps of "the Final Solution." Ordinary Danish citizens, using ferries, yachts, and fishing boats, secretly smuggled the entire Jewish population across the Oresund strait into neutral, unoccupied Sweden.

Ironically, Malmo, the Swedish port city where many of the Danish Jewish refugees landed, is itself the subject of a Simon Wiesenthal Center travel advisory, after multiple violent assaults on the local rabbi and other Jews went unanswered by the police and political leadership of Sweden’s third largest city. It would appear that the perpetrators of the attacks in both Copenhagen and Malmo are young Muslim immigrants. Unfortunately, the Danish local authorities have not responded as courageously as did their forbearers in World War II.

When I was a little boy, my mother told me a popular story about how following the occupation of Denmark by the Nazis, the SS ordered all Danish Jews to wear an armband with a yellow Star of David in public.  The story goes that the following day, when King Christian X went out for his daily afternoon walk, he wore a yellow armband with a Star of David on his sleeve, and the next day all Copenhageners were wearing the Star of David on their sleeves.

The story is only a myth, but growing up, it shaped my view of the Danes.  To me, Copenhagen symbolizes that story and the courage of the Danes who evacuated their Jews in defiance of the Nazis.  To me, Copenhagen is the wondrous city that I visited in college, the city of Hans Christian Andersen, the Little Mermaid statue in the harbor, Tivoli Gardens (photo below), the Carlsberg and Tuborg breweries, and the Great Synagogue, in which a young Danish friend showed so much pride in showing me.  It is singing "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen," from the movie Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye, a Jew, playing the title role.  I may only hope and pray that the courageous Danes return to that Copenhagen.