Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Success Method - Shitat Hamatzliach

My mother in law walks into a dress shop with her son, who is about to get married, and one of three daughters. She sees a dress she likes and her daughter asks how much it costs. The salesman walks over to them and says 1800 shekels, about $450. My mother in law then takes out a piece of paper and writes on it, seven, zero, zero. Seven hundred. She gives the salesman the paper and he says OK. She can have the dress, then he asks about alterations. She says of course and he tries to get her to pay for the alterations. She refuses. By the time they leave the store, the salesman cannot give her enough and promises to ship the altered dress to her house for free.

This, my friends, is called the success method, shetat hamatzliach, and it is a moving force in the Middle East. The only problem is when it enters the public sphere, which it has in many ways here in Israel. For instance, my brother in law was shocked to see his electric bill which had jumped 200% from one month to the next. He went to look at the meter and found that the electric company had made a mistake. He called and they corrected the problem. The next month, the same thing all over again. According to my brother in law, they tried to get away with something, were unsuccessful and then tried again the next month.

Even this story isn’t so bad when you consider what the success method looks like in politics. Dalia Itzik, former chairperson of the Knesset, decided to redo her private residence. She hired an interior designer, bought all kinds of things for her house, and then she submitted the bill to the government office for 40,000 Shekels, $10,000. As the method goes, Ms. Itzik tried to get her way, in this case she failed, and then she paid the price for her lack of success. “Better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

And now we have the tip of the iceberg, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak spent a quarter of a million dollars on a business trip to Europe. Yes, he was doing business for the citizens of Israel, and possibly, by extension, the Jewish people, but what could have cost him $250,000 in four days of meeting with European leaders? Shitat Hamatzliach.

I am all for a little irreverence. I think there are times rules are made to be broken, but this is insane. These people are bilking my people for lots of money. And if those are their ethics when they use my tax shekels, then where are their ethics when they send our boys and girls to Lebanon and Gaza? Where are their ethics when they discuss attacking Iran. Where are their ethics when they lead my country in every which way but forward? This is not a matter of right and left. It is not a question of love of country or not. This is something every Israeli and every pushke contributing Jew should think about and then decide to demand, “Enough. We want good government and we want it now. Including a constitution.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For the love of Da Bears

It's 3:46 AM. Itamar and I have been awake since 2:30 watching the Bears play the Atlanta Falcons through Itamar's invention. He has our friends place their computer in front of the TV during the game and we watch through Skype. It's not the best picture, but it allows us to watch with friends. Now if we could figure out how to get the Old Style from their living room into ours life would be near perfect.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Peace Now doing the right thing

I just spent the day with Peace Now in the West Bank, and my commitment to our cause has been reinvigorated. Peace Now is the conscience of this nation. They will look into the big, dark truthful mirror and then raise it up so that the rest of society can see for itself what we look like and what we are doing.

On our tour today was Yair Oppenheimer, the head of the movement, and many activists. We went to Nokdim, the settlement where Foreign Minister Lieberman has his private residence and we saw many demolished homes in Beit Jallah. We also saw hundreds of vacationing settlers climbing the Herodyon as if greater Israel were a fact on the ground.

All in all, the trip was sad on two levels. First of all, we are constantly marginalized, and our numbers really do point to our position on the fringe of Israeli society (not fringe in terms of our positions). There were plenty of empty seats on our tour bus during Sukkot vacation throughout the country. Granted, people travel, but there are also many more of us with time off from work. We should have been a larger group.

Second, what we saw was disgusting. Usually you think of house demolitions as a kind of family punishment for a terrorist, but the houses we saw were demolished on false pretenses: they were built illegally. The problem is that many of them were built before Israel conquered the land. Even my building in Chicago has many problems grandfathered in, so it seems highly unlikely that the Jerusalem municipality was working in the best interest of all of its citizens when they decided to wreck these homes. This was simply a matter of forced, unjust, eminent domain for the benefit of Jerusalem's Jewish citizenry.

To give some proportion to this issue, a house replacement costs about 80,000 NIS, which is slightly over $20,000, less than my annual rent in Tel-Aviv, but this cost is low because the houses are built by the sweat of the families that live in them.

Anyway, I want to encourage anyone involved in Peace Now to continue the good work and anyone still undecided to tip in our direction.

Sunday in the West Bank with Peace Now

Outside Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's home in the settlement town of Nokdim.
The police here don't like free speech when it comes from the Israeli Left.

Response to "Netanyahu at his best"

The text below was sent to me by a rabbi friend who wanted to answer congregant’s questions without exposing his own biases.

Make this document live. Add your own comments. Argue. It’s like exercise for your mind. Just keep it civil.

Subject: Netanyahu at his best

Even those who aren't particularly sympathetic to Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, could get a good measure of satisfaction from this interview with British Television during the retaliation against Hamas' shelling of Israel.

The interviewer asked him: "How come so many more Palestinians have been killed in this conflict than Israelis?" (A nasty question if there ever was one!)

Netanyahu: "Are you sure that you want to start asking in that direction?"

Interviewer: (Falling into the trap) Why not?

Netanyahu: "Because in World War II more Germans were killed than British and Americans combined, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the war was caused by Germany's aggression. And in response to the German blitz on London, the British wiped out the entire city of Dresden, burning to death more German civilians than the number of people killed in Hiroshima. Moreover, I could remind you that in 1944, when the R.A.F. tried to bomb the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen, some of the bombs missed their target and fell on a Danish children's hospital, killing 83 little children. Perhaps you have another question?"

Answer to question above: More Palestinians died for many reasons, not all one sided.

Against Palestinians: The terrorists among them hijacked Palestinian society and used innocents as human shields.

They are much less sophisticated fighters and were not capable of inflicting the pain Israel did to them, not to say that they wouldn’t if they were given a chance.

Against Israel: We are Goliat today. We are fighting a band of terrorists as if they are an army, and we are fighting a nation as if they were all terrorists. This is not true of the Palestinian people, many of who resent Hamas rule in Gaza.

Israel was so vicious in the war that they used white phosphorus against innocent civilians in contravention to the Geneva Conventions. They also, not coincidentally, had to rewrite their code of ethics for the army and, under the guidance of a highly unethical and not very Jewish behaving professor at Tel Aviv University name Asa Kasher. Read the document. It is a neo-con, Bush era twist of morality.

Answers after each number below.

Apparently, Benjamin Netanyahu gave another interview and was asked about Israel's occupation of Arab lands. His response was, "It's our land". The reporter (CNN or the like) was stunned - read below "It's our land..." It's important information since we don't get fair and accurate reporting from the media and facts tend to get lost in the jumble of daily events.

"Crash Course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict."

Here are overlooked facts in the current & past Middle East situation. These were compiled by a Christian university professor:


It makes sense and it's not slanted. Jew and non-Jew -- it doesn't matter.

1. Nationhood and Jerusalem: Israel became a nation in 1312 BC, two thousand (2000) years before the rise of Islam.

So what. Nationhood is not a static term. Their were no modern nations in 1312 BCE. What is the point of trying to put a round peg in a square hole. The ancient Hebrew term nation is not equivocable with the modern term as used today.

2. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

Just as I don’t want others to establish my identity for me, I don’t want to do it to others. In Israel in 1967, the big crisis was Israeli soldiers saying to the leadership that they are not Jews, they are Israelis. Identity is fluid.

3. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 BC, the Jews have had dominion over the land for one thousand (1000) years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years.

Have you ever heard of eminent domain. Sometimes governments need to step in and make adjustments. Sometimes it’s for the sake of stupid things like a sports field, which happened to my sister in Parkslope, Brooklyn and happened to be very lucrative for her. Sometimes it happens for important things like justice for the people who share the land. As my friend Professor Busool likes to say, “Neither of us are tourists in the land.”

4. The only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 lasted no more than 22 years.

This is not a question of dominion. It is a question of justice. We need a just solution for two distinct people. I want a Jewish state that behaves Jewishly. It would be wrong to force that on “the strangers among us,” so I choose separation under fair conditions. The Palestinians need a viable state in the land that they treasure.

5. For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit.

The Jerusalem that was once the capital of the Jewish kingdom was two square kilometers surrounded by a wall. Palestinians are not making claims on West Jerusalem. Why don’t we just gerrymander East Jerusalem so each community can rule over it’s own people and both communities can have free access to their holy sites.

6. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.

I may be wrong, but neither is Amman, and certainly not Washington, D.C. What is the point of this statement?

7. King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came to Jerusalem.

Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven from Har HaBayit. Maybe you should read the Koran.

8. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem.

Maybe 20% of all Jews pray. All of them make money. Maybe we should ask for Fort Knox as our capital.

9. Arab and Jewish Refugees: in 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left (many in fear of retaliation by their own brethren, the Arabs), without ever seeing an Israeli soldier. The ones who stayed were afforded the same peace, civility, and citizenship rights as everyone else.

Arabs left for the reasons stated above and because there was some degree of what we call today “ethnic cleansing.” Some also left because they were afraid. The Israeli Declaration of Independence is a beautiful document that did afford the remaining Palestinians equal citizenship. It is a pity we don’t live up to the standards we set for ourselves.

10. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms.

True to varying degrees depending on the country. I don’t like to justify my bad behavior based on the bad of others.

11. The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to be around 630,000. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be the same.

Wonderful. Is this an equation for justice? An eye for an eye?

12. Arab refugees were INTENTIONALLY not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own people's lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey.

This is a huge generalization. If you’d like to speak to my friend Ray, whose father fled the coutry around the time of the establishment of the state and made a great life for himself in the United States, I can give you his number. Palestinians went to many places, and some of them had weird plans for the refugees. Does this mean we have no role in trying to make justice for the Palestinians.

13. The Arab-Israeli Conflict: the Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only one Jewish nation. The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won.

These broad statements of truth are hard to address as a whole because they are such complicated issues. For instance, when the 1967 war started, we bombed the Egyptian air force before they ever shot a bullet. Much of the prelude to the war was the Soviets stirring the pot. It’s simply not fair to speak of so much history in a sound byte and think you can close the subject.

14. The PLO's Charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, autonomy under the Palestinian Authority, and has supplied them.

There are two sides to all the Oslo agreements. Both sides have failed to meet the terms. Changing the charter would be a gesture of good faith, but it would be giving up an important card for negotiations. On the other hand, the Palestinians have not declared statehood independent of Israel’s consent, and this seems to be a much more valuable gesture on their part.

15. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and made accessible to people of all faiths.

This is not the truth. Many Palestinians do not have access to their holy sites because they cannot traverse the separation wall freely.
Also, it doesn’t matter what they did to us. We need to maintain a high level of decency in spite of what happened to us. “In a place where there are no people, try to be a person.

16. The UN Record on Israel and the Arabs: of the 175 Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel.

17. Of the 690 General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel.

18. The UN was silent while 58 Jerusalem synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians.

19. The UN was silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

20. The UN was silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like a policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

The UN is not perfect, just like democracy, but it is the best system we have. If you have suggestions for a better system that doesn’t include a theocracy and retains power in the hands of people, let’s hear about it.

These are incredible times. We have to ask what our role should be. What will we tell our grandchildren about what we did when there was a turning point in Jewish destiny, an opportunity to make a difference?

START NOW - Send this to 18 other people you know and ask them to send it to eighteen others, Jew and non-Jew - it doesn't really matter.

Be Jewish about it and keep the answers in bold and add your own answers in other colors. Machloket is a Jewish value. Chevruta is how Jews make sense of the word and the world. Let’s not bow our heads before every demagogue.