Archive for February 15, 2010

Schmooze and News of San Diego-area Jews

February 15, 2010 3 comments

By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO–Emails, phone calls and snail mail–an editor never knows what the day will bring.  Here’s the most recent sampling:

POLITICS—The Republican candidacy of former Marine Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch in the 51st Congressional District has prompted incumbent Bob Filner, chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee, to caution supporters that “there are no safe seats.”  Popaditch, who once was pictured in a tank by the infamous statue of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, lost an eye in combat and has written a book, Once a Marine, about his experiences, clearly appealing to the same veterans constituency that Filner has so assiduously cultivated.  “The candidate running against me has no credentials but his photograph trumps a centerfold,” Filner declares.

LINKS TO OTHER PUBLICATIONS—Nabucco, the Verdi opera exploring the life of the biblical Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, is being produced by the San Diego Opera.  With it comes considerable commentary dealing both with the opera and its subject.   Here is a link to a piece by John Lydon in the San Diego Union-Tribune.   …. Texas has the largest budget in the nation to purchase school books, making textbook publishers responsive to the political demands of its conservative state school board.  The New York Times Magazine takes an in-depth look at what this means for education throughout the United States.   … Rabbi Ben Kamin reflects on on the souls of the American presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.   …. Also on, Cynthia Citron tells of two plays at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles: Wrecks starring Ed Harris and Female of the Species starring Annette Bening.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World


SPME protests expulsion of Ariel University Center from Spanish solar competition

February 15, 2010 1 comment

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Press Release)–Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) has issued a statement signed by 9 Nobel Laureates and 3,100 faculty members from 33 countries condemning the expulsion of Ariel University Center from the 2010 Solar Decathlon in Spain and requesting reinstatement.

Many of the academics who signed this statement, including scholars from universities that have participated, or are now participating, in Solar Decathlon competitions, have expressed concern that the expulsion, as an exclusively political decision, could damage the reputation of the Solar Decathlon and its organizers. Others pointed out, as Ariel’s president did, that the decision affects not only Jewish but also Arab students. Our principle, as one signer put it, is that “academic freedom and human rights must be protected and extended, universally, across the world.”

In September 2009, the Spanish Ministry of Housing expelled the Ariel University Center from participation in the Solar Decathlon 2010 competition. Ariel had been chosen, in October 2008, as one of 20 finalists in that competition, the first of its kind to be held in Europe.

The reasons for Ariel’s expulsion were not academic or technical but strictly political, as the Spanish government itself declared. According to a press release issued by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified the expulsion by invoking the “position of the international community” on Israeli settlements and the fact that “the European Union has repeatedly declared that settlements are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace.”

Further documentation is provided by the statement of one of the organizations pushing for the expulsion, PACBI (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, a letter of July 2009 from the International Union of Architects (UIA) to the Spanish Ministry of Housing, and requests from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign to the Spanish Ministry of Housing and the Rector of the Universidad politecnica de Madrid.

According to Ariel’s president, Professor Dan Meyerstein, who was contacted by SPME, this decision affects not only Jewish students but also the 500 Arab students at the Ariel University Center.

Letters of concern asking for reinstatement of Ariel have been sent to the Spanish government and other officials. To date these letters remain unacknowledged and unanswered.

SPME has sent its statement to EU President Jose Luis Zapatero, to the incoming EU president Herman van Rompuy, and to Professor Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy; the Department of Energy is the main sponsor of the Solar Decathlon competitions.

Preceding provided by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

7th graders to lead Megillah reading at Etz Rimon

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

CARLSBAD (Press Release)–Temple Etz Rimon’s Friday Night service Feb 26th will feature the 7th graders leading much of the service including reading of the Megillah. Congregants and children are asked to come in costume and be prepared to cheer the hero, and boo the villian.  Groggers will be provided.  More details available from the congregation at (760) 929-9503

Preceding provided by Temple Etz Rimon

Democracies in U.S., Israel tend to pull politicians to the center

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Dow Marmur 

JERUSALEM –We may be forgiven if we decide that it almost doesn’t matter which political party is in power because the policies of them all end up being uncannily similar. Thus the softly-softly approach of President Obama that characterized his first year in office is becoming almost as tough as that of his predecessors. We now hear of targeted killings of terrorists and massive military actions that put civilians at risk. By all accounts, there’s much more to come of that ilk.

On a much smaller scale, the situation is similar in Israel. Thus the leader of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, clinging to power and enjoying his popularity as minister of defense, is virtually indistinguishable from a right-leaning politician, not because he has had a change of heart but because his office is said to demand actions that belie socialist principles. Those faithful to the original party platform have been marginalized or have left. Indeed, the Labor Party as a whole is on the verge of disintegration.

The conservative leader of the Likud Party Prime Minister Netanyahu is said to be of the same mind as his allegedly left-wing defense minister. In fact, Netanyahu seems to be in search of other centrists to join his coalition as a counterweight to the hawks in his own ranks. If the Kadima Party, currently led by Tzipi Livni, breaks up, which is likely, her chief opponent Shaul Mofaz and his crew may join Netanyahu and thus solidify the centre, to the chagrin of faithful Likud back-benchers (the counterpart to the faithful Labor back-benchers) and those even further to the right.

Like Obama in the United States, Barak and Netanyahu in Israel still make speeches that are reminiscent of their election campaigns, but that’s not how they conduct business once in power. I assume that they rationalize the dishonesty and the inconsistencies in the name of prudence, responsibility and statecraft.

There’re signs of similar trends in the Palestinian Authority, mainly thanks to its Prime Minister whose move toward the reasonable center is promising.

The only way you can govern according to one’s principles, I’m told, is if your aim is a form of dictatorship. It’s on this basis that Chavez and Ahmadinejad have remained consistent. But other members of that club – Putin in Russia, Lula in Brazil, Castro II in Cuba, the Chinese and many others – have mercifully modified their tone.

Judging by his ominously consistent public pronouncements, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a potential member of the dictators’ club. So far, he has been relentless in his attacks on countries with whom he’s expected to engage in diplomacy, on Palestinians and their supporters and on the Arab citizens of Israel. Though still unlikely, it’s not quite impossible that his party could get more seats in the next Knesset elections than any other. That would make him a candidate for prime minister. Would he turn Israel into a nightmare, or would he be tamed like so many others have been?

Nobody seems to know. I hope we’ll never find out. Perhaps as Netanyahu is veering toward the center he wants Lieberman to “balance” the picture thus keeping the right-wing at bay. But having him as foreign minister is to gamble with Israel’s international standing. And with Lieberman as a loose canon things may go out of hand.  

The above is an attempt to comment on the mixed messages from the politicians and thus articulate my own misgivings. Of course, as usual I hope that I’m very wrong.

Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time between Canada and Israel

Checks and balances–American and Israeli styles

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — The Marker, the economic supplement of Ha’aretz, celebrated the first year of the Netanyahu government with a front page story comparing the prime minister’s promises and accomplishments. The headline deals with the most recent great idea, to extend rail and improved road networks to the far corners of this small country, but indicates that the prime minister is already downsizing under pressure from the Finance Ministry. Other items so far not accomplished are:

  • a proposal to extend the value added tax to fruits and vegetables, opposed by farmers and groups concerned with social policy;
  • a “drought tax” on water usage, opposed by the Kadima Party and the Association of Local Governments;
  • a reform in the planning laws to make project approvals easier, opposed by the Labor Party and environmentalists;
  • reduction in the income tax and tax on companies, opposed by the Budget Office of the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel.

These details will not interest many Americans, but they may lead them to think about their president’s health reform, his promises to close Guantanamo, bring the troops home from Iraq, and to fix the world via a commitment to engagement, all of which were to be part of a larger commitment to Change.

The lesson from these two countries is that change does not come easily, and often not at all. Democracies in particular have their separations of power and checks and balances which give advantages to those who oppose new ventures. American school children learn the prominent features of federalism, three branches of the national government, two Houses of Congress, a separately elected President, and courts, each of which have some leverage over proposals coming from elsewhere. American lessons tend not to emphasize the power of bureaucrats. That is a dirty word in the land of all those elective offices, but it is important in countries that are not so fearful of the governing professions..

Israel’s checks and balances works via political parties that may agree to join a government coalition, but do not consent to many of the proposals that come from the prime minister, plus a bureaucracy with its own sources of authority. The Finance Ministry, in particular, has several ways to veto the grand ideas of elected officials. There is also a central bank and courts that can weigh in on issues that conflict with how they view their responsibilities.

Even where a parliamentary system produces a government ruled by a party with a majority in the legislature, there remain intra-party rivalries and policy disagreements, as well as a professional bureaucracy with pride in its responsibilities. Great Britain provides a model of a parliamentary democracy where the ruling party usually has a majority, but it also gave rise to the television series, Yes Minister. Its title illustrates how ranking bureaucrats scuttle the initiatives of politicians by seeming to go along. Numerous episodes feature its administrative heroes sitting in their club, drinking something good, and pledging to fight the inclination of politicians to think for themselves.

One of the lines I remember from a senior administrator in Australia: “Why do you want to talk to politicians? They’re good in the bars, but they don’t know anything.”

Whatever their source, democracies have several checks that keep the government from doing too much that is new, expensive, daring, or goes against the preferences of a significant group in the population, even if it is a minority.

Much of the resistance comes from the complex substance of social, economic, and overseas problems that do not lend themselves to the quick fixes that sound great in political rhetoric.

If Americans really wanted a health system that provided decent coverage to everyone, they would have had it long ago. Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, now seems to have gotten his government off to a bad start by trying too much in a sensitive area. Both sought to make decent policy, similar to what every other democracy provides, but somehow not suitable to the United States. Obama’s task was never a slam dunk, but now may have been scuttled by Massachusetts.

Recent news is that persons having individual health insurance contracts in California (as opposed to employer-provided insurance) may be hit with a 30 percent increase in premiums. This may drive more of the young and healthy to abandon their coverage, which will assure further increases in premiums for the older and not-so-healthy who remain a larger proportion of those having this kind of coverage. 

Guantanamo is still up and running despite the President’s pledge. There is no firm end date for American troops in Iraq. There has been a decline in their casualties, but that reflects their withdrawal to safe havens. Mosques, markets, and the lines of candidates seeking government positions are still exposed to suicide attacks. Increases in military commitments for Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terror, with no optimistic prognosis, appear closer to the policies of the Bush administration than to anything qualifying as Change. Likewise the retreat to conventional language about Israel and Palestine, rather than a frontal assault with a deadline for an agreement.

Both Bibi and Barack are good talkers. Reports are that they do not like one another, but they are required to take one another into their considerations. Comics may say that they deserve one another.

Harry Truman told us that politicians are limited social beings “If you want a friend in this town buy a dog.”

Both Bibi and Barack are good at blustering commitments and both have demonstrated how they can back down without admitting defeat.

That is normal politics, here, there, and elsewhere.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

To facilitate teaching a second language, pronounce it in the accents of the first

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

 HAIFA (Press Release)–Perception of second language speech is easier when it is spoken in the accent of the listener and not in the ‘original’ accent of that language, shows a new study from the University of Haifa. The study was published in the prestigious Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.

Many adult schools teaching second languages insist on exposing their students to the languages in their ‘original’ accents. However, this new study, carried out by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim and Dr. Mark Leikin of the University of Haifa’s Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Prof. Zohar Eviatar of the Department of Psychology and Prof. Shimon Sapir of the Department of Learning Disabilities, found that this system is not necessarily the best and certainly not the most expeditious.

The present study set out to reveal the level of phonological information that the adult learner requires in order to identify words in a second language that had been learned at a later age, and whether the level of phonological information that they require varies when the words are pronounced in different accents.

The researchers recorded four Hebrew sentences in which the last word was a noun pronounced in a different accent: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English. These sentences were electronically encoded on a computer system and applied to the “gating” paradigm, in which participants are exposed to increasing amounts of a speech stimulus (40 milliseconds), and at each ‘gate’, are asked to identify the stimulus.  This procedure allows the identification of the point at which a word is recognized.

The sentences were played to 60 participants aged 18-26; 20 of the participants were native Hebrew speakers; 20 were new adult immigrants to Israel from the Former Soviet Union who had learned Hebrew only after moving to Israel; 20 were Israeli Arabic speakers who began learning Hebrew at age 7-8.

The findings show that there is no difference in the amount of phonological information that the native Hebrew speakers need in order to decipher the words, regardless of accent. With the Russian and Arabic speakers, on the other hand, less phonological information was needed in order to recognize the Hebrew word when it was pronounced in the accent of their native language than when they heard it in the accent of another language.

“This research lays emphasis on the importance of continuing investigation into the cognitive perspectives of accent in order to gain a better understanding of how we learn languages other than our native tongue. In Israel and in other countries where the population is made up of many different language groups, this understanding holds great significance,” the researchers conclude.

Preceding provided by the University of Haifa

Anti-Israel bias infects medical journals

February 15, 2010 3 comments

By  Barbara Kay

LONDON–As all doctors know, untreated gangrene in a single limb can spread quickly through the body and lead to death. The most effective way to halt the progress of gangrene is to cut off the corrupting limb, a necessary sacrifice for the greater good.

As with bodies, so with scientific credibility.

As Phyllis Chesler informed us [1] in  the newsletter of the British Israel Group on January 24, Lancet, once an impeccable source for authoritative medical research, has in recent years become more and more “Palestinianized.” In the just-published article she cites, “Association between exposure to political violence and intimate-partner violence in the occupied Palestinian territory: a cross-sectional study,” Palestinian husbands were found to be more violent towards their wives as a function of the Israeli “occupation” — “and … the violence increases significantly when the husbands are ‘directly’ as opposed to ‘indirectly’ exposed to political violence.”

Very clever. Being a Palestinian means you get to beat your wife without having to say you’re sorry, because, hey, it’s too bad about all those bruises, but the Israelis made me do it! That the statistics were gathered and the study was funded by the Palestinian Authority should have been a clue to its lack of objectivity. This is propaganda, not research.

It isn’t only Lancet, though. Editorial views in the prestigious British Medical Journal [2] and the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians [3] (recently renamed Clinical Medicine) have revealed a similar pattern of anti-Israel bias.

In the February 2009 issue of Commentary [4] (requires a login), an official organ of the Royal College of Physicians of London, for example, an inflammatory “special” article erroneously claims, amongst other falsehoods, that Palestinian physicians were prevented from traveling abroad for training and conferences. This was especially galling to Israeli medical professionals because, as Hebrew University Professor Oded Abramsky wrote in an open letter to the Royal College of Physicians [5]: “The level of cooperation between Israeli and Gazan hospitals and medical personnel and the cross-border treatment of the ill and wounded is without question greater than between any two other entities in the world who are nominally (and sometimes actively) at war. Therefore, please keep medicine and politics separate, for the good of all, as we try to do in Israel.” An apology by the journal was later (grudgingly) issued.

To prove that bias amongst British medical research elites is systemic rather than random, a group of Israeli medical academics, led by Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Israeli Medical Association Journal [6], assessed coverage of conflict-related deaths around the world.

Their study [7] analyzed citations in the British Medical Journal, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Medical Association, finding that: for Europeans killing Europeans (Bosnia), there was one citation for every 2,000 deaths; for Africans killing Africans (Rwanda), one citation for every 4,000 deaths; for Arabs killing black Africans (Darfur), one citation for every 7,000 deaths; for Arab Muslims killing Kurds, no citation whatsoever; yet, for Israelis killing Palestinians, one citation for every 13 deaths.

The Brits aren’t alone in their politicization of science. But because of the long ancestry of their journals and the reflexive respect they command, the British organs are looked up to as role models; when they allow ideology to trump accuracy and objectivity, they give encouragement to insalubrious elements in other research entities.

And so now the gangrene is everywhere, even in my own backyard. Canadian scientific scholarship is generally widely respected and used to be entirely credible. But as early as 2004 the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry [8] published an article, “Prevalence of Psychological Morbidity in West Bank Palestinian Children [9],” whose thrust is to blame the Israeli occupation for the psychological problems of Palestinian children. The methodology is transparently shoddy and no attempt is made to obscure the partisanship governing the focus. Any objective study would have sought to compare data about the suffering of Israeli children under constant threat of (and actual) terrorism. Worse, from a scientific point of view, not a single one of the authors is academically accredited in psychology or psychiatry. It took months before a letter of rebuttal was accepted for publication. By then the damage was done.

It’s too bad these medical journals don’t choose to highlight the amazing medical benefits Israel has brought to Palestinians. As detailed in a May 30, 2009, study [10] by U.S. medical researchers Ted H. Tulchinsky et al., Palestinians in the territories boast the lowest age- and sex-standardized mortality rate per 100,000 of all Middle Eastern Arab populations. Since 1972 immunization coverage in the territories has reached 99%. Polio and measles have been eradicated. Life expectancy rose from 54 in 1970 to 73 in 2007. Major sanitation and disease-control projects have reduced morbidity and hospital admissions.

And of Israeli and North American doctors giving of their time and expertise to improve the medical lot of Palestinians, there seems to be no end. Some Toronto heart surgeons, to cite but one shining example, 10 years ago founded a strictly non-political, non-sectarian group called Save a Child’s Heart [11] (SACH), whose motto is “mending hearts, building bridges.” Headquartered at Woolfson Hospital in Tel Aviv, with satellite offices in the U.S., the UK, and Germany, SACH has operated on 2,100 children from 35 different countries at a cost of about $10,000 per child. Almost half of them are from neighboring Arab countries, including the West Bank, of course. Money raised by SACH also goes to train foreign medical teams. During the Gazan conflict, an infant nephew of the Hamas minister of defense was brought in for urgent heart surgery.

Why don’t Lancet and the others choose to write the good medical news about Israel? They could start with Israel’s stellar performance following the recent earthquake in Haiti, where by all accounts the Israeli field hospital and human and material resources rose head and shoulders over every other country’s.

If the medical profession were a human body, any objective doctor would issue the obvious warning that if it wants to thrive — in academic terms, to be taken seriously by real scholars — it must cut off the gangrenous anti-Israel limb that has already turned black and stinks to high heaven.

Time is running out. Physicians, heal thyselves.

Article printed from Pajamas Media:

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URLs in this post:

[1] informed us:
[2] British Medical Journal:
[3] Journal of the Royal College of Physicians:
[4] Commentary:
[5] open letter to the Royal College of Physicians:
[6] Israeli Medical Association Journal:
[7] study:
[8] Canadian Journal of Psychiatry:
[9] Prevalence of Psychological Morbidity in West Bank Palestinian Children:
[10] study:
[11] Save a Child’s Heart: