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Commentary: Inappropriate for U.S. State Department to send Muslim cleric to Arab countries

August 11, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The State Department has confirmed that Feisal Abdul Rauf – who wants to be the imam of a mosque at Ground Zero – is taking a State Department funded trip to the Middle East to foster “greater understanding” about Islam and Muslim communities in the United States.

“He is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding about the region around the world among Muslim-majority communities.” Rauf is reportedly going to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.
 
What a load of hooey.
 
We know a lot of rabbis, some ministers and a few priests. We would be appalled to have the government of the United States, which by law favors no religion, sending a rabbi to Israel – or the former Soviet Union or France or Argentina, where there are communities of Jews – to talk about how Jews live in the United States. Having a priest travel to the Vatican, Honduras, Ireland or the Philippines to describe the lives of American Catholics would be outrageous. Likewise, ministers to Sweden.
 
What business is it of the American government to send a Muslim to Muslim-majority countries to talk about Islam? How offensive is it to think that the American government is using American tax dollars to fly a non-government person around the world to promote the activities and lifestyle of a particular religion? Better to send a non-Muslim American government official to talk about American religious freedom, cultural diversity and the virtues of the secular, democratic state. 
 
To the speculation that Rauf will engage in fund raising for the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, Mr. Crowley said, “That would not be something he could do as part of our program,” he said. 
 
We’re so relieved. And we’re so sure he will do only as the American government desires.
 
But Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 family member told The New York Post, “‘We know he has a fund-raising association with Saudi Arabia,’ … noting that the Saudis have contributed money to underwrite programs by the American Society for Muslim Advancement, a not-for-profit that Abdul Rauf runs with his wife and that is one of the sponsors of the Ground Zero mosque. ‘He’s going to the well, and how can they say they do or don’t know what he’s doing?'”
 
To be entirely clear, JINSA believes Ground Zero is a battlefield cemetery – the site of a battle for the liberal democratic state. We oppose the building of a Muslim sectarian monument there because regardless of what its supporters say, it will be widely understood in the Muslim world as a battlefield monument in the name of Islam. 
 
Does the State Department really think Rauf (who said in English that the United States bears responsibility for 9-11) will tell the Saudis, Bahrainis and Qataris that he is building a monument to cultural understanding, interfaith relations and peace in New York because America is a good, safe and decent place for Muslims as long as they understand the secular, democratic nature of the United States? And that he doesn’t want their money because Americans will fund the mosque?
 
And how will the State Department know?

*
Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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Commentary: Israelis divided on fate of children of foreign workers

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — The New York Times headlines  its article about a recent Israeli government decision dealing with the children of illegal immigrants, “Israelis Divided on Deporting Children.” Its first paragraph claims that

“Deep divisions emerged here on Monday over the fate of about 400 children of foreign workers who have no legal status in the  country and are slated for deportation. The issue has touched on sensitive nerves in Israel, which sees itself as a nation of Jewish refugees and defines itself as a Jewish and democratic  state.”

The issue does stir emotions. However, the results of one media query seem short of “deep divisions.” The country’s most popular news web site asked about the government decision that would allow approximately 800 children of foreign workers to stay in Israel, and deport about 400.” The criteria employed by the government would take into consideration length of residence, fluency in Hebrew, and enrollment in public school.

Of more than 1500 respondents,  17 percent thought the decision an appropriate compromise, 54 percent chose the option “Disgrace; there is a need to deport them all,” and 29 percent chose “Shameful; the government should allow all to stay.”

The issue of illegal immigration touches the same buttons here that it does in the United States and Western Europe. Israel is the only well-to-do western country having a land border with Africa, and the route from Egypt over the Sinai with Bedouin guides has resulted in substantial illegal foreign worker communities in Eilat and the poorer neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. Official estimates of close to 150,000 illegal residents include these migrants, as well as individuals who came as part of official agreements with several Asian countries (especially the Philippines, Thailand, China), and overstayed their visas. European prostitutes also come over the Sinai, typically  organized by Israeli criminals whose own origins are in the women’s homelands of the former  Soviet Union.

As elsewhere, businesses and families have trouble attracting menial workers who are legal, and provide jobs despite threats of inspections and fines. Egyptian police and soldiers make occasional sweeps against Bedouin traffickers, but their practice of shooting and killing the migrants does not go down well with Israelis.

Israel’s media has cooperated with activists who portray many of the African migrants as refugees seeking asylum from Darfur, although there may be few if any who have documented such origins. The vast majority are economic migrants, with large numbers coming from Eritrea and Nigeria. Efforts to arrange orderly programs of work permits with those governments along with procedures for returning illegals have not succeeded. While Israel’s government was pondering the issue of deporting children and their families over the course of several weeks, the media provided coverage for children who spoke, in Hebrew, about their love of Israel, their aspirations to become Israelis and eventually to serve in the army, and their lack of any connections with any other place. Media personalities press individuals speaking for the government, or Knesset Members in favor of deportation, with questions like, “How can you deport such children?”

Israelis do have sensitive nerves, but it is not clear how they differ from other populations. Perhaps 100,000 have expressed concern for Gilad Shalit, the soldier held prisoner in Gaza more than four years, but there are no overt signs of a movement to undercut the government’s refusal to free all the prisoners demanded as his price by Hamas. 

More likely to be emotional than other events is the death of military personnel. When an IDF helicopter crashed with the loss of six lives during a training mission in Romania, the media devoted extensive coverage of the incident over the course of several days: from the first report of a missing helicopter missing to the funerals of the men on board. There were numerous interviews with experts speculating about the cause of the crash, and reports about the technicians, officers, and military rabbis sent to Romania in order to collect material for inspection and to identify the remains. As has occurred in the case of other military loses, there were stories about each of the individuals, interviews with friends and family members. Thousands of people attend these funerals, many of whom have no direct connection with those killed. 

While there are Israelis who feel strongly about pleasant looking Africans and other children of illegal immigrants, there is no indication that they are able to shape public policy. It is hard to argue with the statement, expressed by several in the government’s majority, who said that an excess of leniency would only add to the problems of a small country, wanting to remain Jewish, and having a border with the poorest region of the world.

Among those quarreling with this sentiment was a prominent television personality who held forth on the value of ethnic variety, and the greater willingness of these immigrants than the ultra-Orthodox to work and to serve in the army.

The government has taken initial steps to build some kind of barrier through the long wasteland that is the border between the  Sinai and Israel, but the Bedouin will be crafty at poking holes in whatever Israel builds. And it is cumbersome at best to deport individuals who have no  documents, may not report truthfully about their origins,  and are not likely to be accepted by whatever homeland Israel would decide is theirs. 
Israel has approached European countries with a request to accept some of these people. So far there are no reports of success. 
Anyone think that the United States would cooperate?

 *
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Roll call on Gaza flotilla portrays the values of international community

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Israel was victimized twice this week, first by terrorists hiding yet again among the civilian population (one Turkish-sponsored jihadi boat traveling with five more-or-less civilian boats) and second by a world all too ready to blame Israel for the violence engendered by those who sought a bloody death for themselves and any Jews they could take along. By the end of the week, things began to look more normal-those who are already against remained against; those who try to split the difference split it (consider the “abstain” list below); and a few stood honorably above the rest.   

1) Italy, Netherlands and the United States voted against resolution A/HRC/14/L.1, “Grave Attacks by Israeli Forces against the Humanitarian Boat Convoy” in the UN “Human Rights” Council. It is of note that the major Italian newspapers supported Israel editorially as well. In the United States, public opinion ran strongly in Israel’s favor, as usual. 
 
After a nasty and public denunciation of Israel by President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner, France abstained, probably reminded that in 1985 French commandos sunk a Greenpeace ship in what was called Opération Satanique. (You know what a threat those satanic environmentalists pose to Paris.) France was joined by Belgium, Burkina Faso, Hungary, Japan, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Ukraine and UK.
 
Voting in favor of the commission whose conclusion is in its title were Angola, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, and Uruguay. 
 
Surprised?
 
2) President Obama: He almost got it right in a TV interview, but missed the essential point. “You’ve got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel-Gaza border. I’ve been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people’s bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there.  On the other hand, you’ve got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.”
 
The President doesn’t know, or didn’t say, that Hamas is responsible both for the attacks on Israel and for the misery of the Palestinians in Gaza. Instead, he wanted to “work with all parties concerned-the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis, the Egyptians and others-and I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process once we’ve worked through this tragedy. And bring everybody together…”
 
Aside from the fact that Turkey is fully complicit in the incident and thus should forfeit any seat at any future table, the Palestinian Authority has not represented Gaza Palestinians since Hamas evicted it in a bloody putsch in 2007. Instead of hoping to “bring everybody together…” the President should be working to evict Hamas from Gaza, for the sake of the Palestinians as much as anyone else.
 
3) The Czech Republic: Small countries that know what it means to disappear when others find them inconvenient stick together and we are grateful that they do. The President of the Czech Senate, Dr. Přemysl Sobotka, told Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, “As a doctor, I certainly regret any loss of life, but there is no doubt that this was a planned provocation designed to drag Israel into a trap… Many in the European community feel as I do, but they are afraid to speak out publicly… I support the position that views Hamas as a terrorist organization… It is too bad that European countries present an unbalanced position on this matter. Unfortunately, the positions of the international community are not always to my taste, particularly in Europe.”
 
We are reminded that 18 months ago, the Czech foreign minister issued this statement: “I consider it unacceptable that villages in which civilians live have been shelled. Therefore, Israel has an inalienable right to defend itself against such attacks. The shelling from the Hamas side makes it impossible to consider this organization as a partner for negotiations and to lead any political dialogue with it.”
 
And finally…
 
4) Mesheberach: During the Jewish Sabbath service, there is a prayer is for those who are ill or injured.   The “Mesheberach” includes the name of the person for whom the prayer is offered and, in an unusual practice, the name of the person’s mother rather than his or her father. Whether in the synagogue or not, we hope readers will remember the six soldiers injured while protecting the people of Israel:

Dean Ben (son of) Svetlana
Roee Ben (son of) Shulamit
Daniel Lazar Ben (son of) Tina Leah
Yotam Ben (son of) Dorit
Ido Ben (son of) Ilana
Boris Ben (son of) Eelaina

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

San Diego historic places: the church at Mission San Diego

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Church interior, Mission San Diego (Dan Schaffer photo)

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — Rebuilt in 1931 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the church at Mission San Diego features a broken crucifix that intentionally has not been repaired.

There are no arms on the figure of Jesus on the cross, but in 1970 when Monsignor Brent Eagen saw it in an antique shop in Rome, he thought it was just the right age to fit in with the historic mission and just the right size to cover the painted cross on the altar.

“It dismayed him that it did not have arms, but everything else was perfect about it,” said Janet Bartel, the chief docent at Mission San Diego. “So he had it crated up, brought it back here and figured that he would have a craftsman put arms on it. But when one of the nuns next door at the Sisters of Nazareth saw it, she said that St. Theresa had said something to the effect of ‘let the people do Christ’s work.’ So it is a reminder to us at Mission San Diego that we should be out doing the work of Christ, we should be the arms of Christ.”

Since the American Bicentennial in 1976, the church has been ranked as a basilica, not because of its architecture but because “it is a church of very important historical significance,” Bartel said. “It is an honor bestowed upon a church by the Pope. If the Pope wanted to visit San Diego this would be his official headquarters.” Above the pulpit hangs a canopy in the papal colors indicating the church’s status.

The designs of the old mission churches of California were dictated by pragmatism, Bartel said.

“The original mission churches wouldn’t have been this large, but they would have been long and narrow because they had no way of joining beams,” said Bartel, pointing to the roof. “”So they would have cut down the tallest trees they could find, line them up side by side and the shortest tree would determine the width of any building.”

Of all the buildings around the mission quadrangle, the church by design was the largest because it was “the most important building on the site,” the docent said. “So once they decided how wide the building could be, they would dig trenches, place the smooth round rocks in for drainage, and begin building the adobe. They would put a tree there and slowly lift it up, because they didn’t have any cranes. … And then they would cover it with tule or bamboo.”

After Mission San Diego was burned down in an attack in 1775, the Padres realized that red tile clay roofs were preferable because they were fire proof. Windows in the adobe walls were placed high up, because “the adobe would have been four or five feet thick and structurally it would not have been safe at all if all those openings for windows were at the bottom.”

Among the images painted on the pulpit lectern is a pineapple—the international symbol of hospitality. In 1989, when executives of the Key West, Florida-based Historic Tours of America (HTA) visited San Diego to decide whether to open Old Town Trolley Tours of San Diego, the pineapple visibly moved Bobby Bernreuter, who then was in charge of HTA’s operations in the State of Florida. Active in the Catholic Church in Key West, he took the presence of the pineapple painting in the first church of San Diego as a favorable omen. The company, which names its trolleys, located an operation in San Diego, and named one of its vehicles after Father Junipero Serra, the mission’s founder. 

There are statues and numerous portraits in the area of the altar, among them a painting of St. Didacus (who is known in Spanish as San Diego) that was brought to San Diego in the ships of Father Junipero Serra’s expedition and restored in 1987, said Bartel. Nearby is a statue of the Virgin Mary. It depicts her pregnant with the Christ child, yet embroidered on her dress is a cross symbolizing how that child would die.

In its long history between 1769 and the present, Mission San Diego had been moved, burned down, rebuilt on several occasions, stripped by Mexico from Catholic Church ownership, used as military headquarters by the U.S. Army, restored to the Catholic Church by President Abraham Lincoln, plundered of its bricks and other building materials during its period of abandonment, and reduced to rubble. Fighting the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was authorized during President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to put the mission back together on the basis of plans dating back to 1812.

In over 240 years of its history, many of the church’s possessions were hidden away for safety or carted away by those with less altruistic motives. As the Padres kept meticulous records which survive to this day, it is known what sacred objects were in the original church.

For example, there were statues of three saints –the archangels Gabriel, Rafael and Michael—at Mission San Diego. “When this mission was abandoned a lot of the stuff went back to the Franciscans,” the order to which Father Serra belonged. As the Franciscans are still at San Luis Rey, they inherited considerable property that had once been at Mission San Diego, including the statues of the three saints. Pointing to a statue of San Gabriel, Bartel commented, “we were only able to get this one back.”

Among the other figures and paintings at the front of the church is a depiction of the Virgin Mary. Bartel said that it came from San Antonio de Padua, “which is Italian, but this statue has Asian eyes, so we feel that it came originally from the Philippines. It will be going to San Francisco temporarily where there is an exhibition of Asian art planned.”

A painting called “Our Lady of Life” once belonged to the Mission but now, “much to our consternation,” is in the hands of the San Diego Historical Society. The mission has commissioned an artist to make a copy.

“And this statuary,” the guide continued, “is Costa Rican—Our Lady of Angels.” Part of the statue includes a black Madonna within an oval. “The story is that there was a woman who found a wood Madonna. She brought it home and she was telling someone about it, but then she went to take it out, it wasn’t there. She went back to where she found it, and it was on the wood pile. They tell the priest about it, and the priest says (disbelievingly), ‘yeah, right.’ They give him the Madonna and he puts it in his desk. But when he opened his drawer later, it wasn’t there. It was back at the wood pile. Supposedly that was one of the apparitions of Mary and she wanted a Cathedral built on that site. People from Costa Rica come here in May and September, and they recently had it restored.”

Another sculpture is of Father Serra, and it was done in his native Majorca.

At the back of the sanctuary is a bapistry, which is no longer used. The baptismal font is a copy of the one in which Serra was baptized in Majorca. And there is a painting of St. Anne (mother of the Virgin Mary), that may be older than the original mission.

The Mission Church is today both a place of history and present-day worship. Masses are celebrated in this church twice on weekdays, and five times on Sunday at 7, 8, 10, and 11 a.m. and at 12 and 5:30 p.m.

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Harrison is editor of  San Diego Jewish World.  Preceding was previously published on examiner.com

Cruising through Latin American history

March 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Francisco Pizarro statue in Lima

Sixth in a Series

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

ABOARD MS ROTTERDAM—From the earliest days of the conquest of Latin America to the years of liberation, our cruise ship sped us through some of the most dramatic moments in Spanish colonial history.

For us, a recent voyage aboard MS Rotterdam began in Callao, the port serving nearby Lima, Peru.  Inside the Cathedral on Lima’s Plaza des Armas, one can find the tomb of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who nearly 470 years after his assassination is still a controversial figure in Peru.

Renato Monteverde

As guide Renato Monteverde of taxilimaperu.com narrated the story, Pizarro is hated in Peru for having slain so many Incas during the time of conquest.  A well-known statue of him astride a horse once was located in front of the Cathedral, according to Monteverde, but the church didn’t consider a horseman with a sword consistent with its image as the helper of the people.  So, said Monteverde, the statue was moved by city authorities in front of the presidential palace.   But the president—being a politician who wants to court the support of the people—didn’t want so controversial a figure in front of his building either.  Spain was asked to take the statue back, but according to Monteverde’s version, the former colonial power would do so only if Peru paid for the shipping.  Eventually, the statue was moved to the catacombs by the river, in the hope, according to Monteverde, that it would be someday washed away.

While one might quibble with the historical veracity of Monteverde’s tale, it certainly portrayed in most vivid fashion how some people feel about the Spaniards who brought their weapons and their diseases to the Incan Empire.  At least for some parts of the population, Pizarro is an absolute anathema.

Fernando Lopez Sanchez

Fernando Lopez Sanchez, an historian trained by Lima’s Catholic University who today serves as chief archivist at the Cathedral, offers a more forgiving assessment of the conquistador.  “History tells us the facts that took place; it is up to us to interpret and understand the time in which he lived,” Lopez said.  “He was doing what all the soldiers of the time were doing, which was conquest.”

However, he added, “The intentions of Pizarro and the conquistadors was not just to come in and kill everything in sight; the intention was to try to spread faith to a population.  At first they tried to negotiate with the indigenous people, but once the negotiations failed, it turned into violence.”

It is true that many Incas died, “but what you have to take into account was that most of the deaths were not caused by Spanish arms but by the diseases” they unknowingly brought to South America with them.

Pizarro founded Lima in 1535, and he is buried in the cathedral “because the city would not have been established were it not for Pizarro and it was his dying wish to be buried in the cathedral.”

The conquistador of Mexico, Hernan Cortes, was a second cousin of Pizarro’s.  Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs in 1520 and Pizarro’s conquest of the Incans in 1532 are often equated.  However, said Lopez, “although there are similarities in the Mexican and the Peruvian pasts, the Mexicans today are ultra nationalists, whereas Peruvians are more open to people from different cultures.   Mexicans view their history with more hatred.  They hate Cortes, they say ‘he killed us all.’  What is happening here in Peru is that we try to understand the Spanish instead of just hating them.”

Spanish rule lasted in Peru for nearly 300 years, until 1821, when the Argentine general Jose de San Martin liberated Lima and became known as the Protector of Peru.

The next port of call for MS Rotterdam was Guayaquil, Ecuador, where San Martin in 1822 reportedly had his only meeting ever with the liberator of northern South America, Simon Bolivar.  Nobody knows for certain what the two men said, although it is believed that San Martin acceded to the idea of modern-day Ecuador and Peru becoming part of Gran Colombia, the confederation of South American states that also included modern day Colombia and Venezuela. 

La Rotunda in Guayaquil celebrates meeting of Bolivar and San Martin

The content of the meeting between the two great liberators today is still a source of speculation among historians.  The fact that it was held in Guayaquil is a matter of great pride to the port city, which in its commemoration built La Rotunda, a heroic sized monument  on the Malecon, a wide walkway along the Guayas River.  Those interested in Spanish colonial history can easily combine a visit to La Rotunda with a short walk to the Museo Nahim Isaias, in which a banker of Lebanese descent compiled a storehouse of Spanish colonial art, most of it on Christian religious subjects.

After stopping in Manta, Ecuador;  Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; MS Rotterdam pulled into Huatulco, Mexico, which in association with Veracruz on Mexico’s Atlantic Coast and Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific Coast was an important port in keeping Spain’s colonial empire in Latin America together.  Acapulco was the next port after Huatulco on MS Rotterdam’s itinerary.

Small boat dock in Huatulco

Spain sent European goods and crops across the Atlantic Ocean to Veracruz, where they were sold at market for the silver mined and coined in Mexico.  Afterwards, the European goods were sent to Huatulco and Acapulco.  Those that went to Huatulco were put onto ships for Peru, where the goods were exchanged for Peruvian precious metals, furniture and crops.  European goods that went to Acapulco were put on galleons bound for Manila in the Philippines, where the goods and Mexican silver were exchanged for the silks, spices, and ceramics of the Far East.

Fort San Diego in Acapulco

Fort San Diego in Acapulco is located across the street from the cruise pier, making it a popular destination for tourists.  Shaped like an irregular five-pointed star, Fort San Diego had a commanding view of ocean and land approaches to Acapulco. Its cannons were able to protect the treasures of the galleons from pirates and other enemies of the Spanish crown.

In 1813, however, the Mexican revolutionary Jose Maria Morelos was able to capture the fort in Acapulco, effectively bringing to an end the era when the Pacific Ocean was considered a Spanish lake ruled by the Manila galleons.

From Acapulco, MS Rotterdam proceeded to Cabo San Lucas, which most people know for the famous stone arches that mark the point where the Sea of Cortes and the Pacific Ocean divide.  In Spanish colonial history, this picturesque port spelled danger because it was a favorite hiding place for British pirates ready to plunder the galleons. 

Tendering to Cabo San Lucas

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese sailor in the employ of Spain, passed Cabo San Lucas en route to Alta California.  He claimed modern-day San Diego Bay for Spain in 1542, naming the area San Miguel.  However, Cabrillo’s discovery was all but forgotten for six decades.  After the pirate Thomas Cavendish made short work of the galleon Santa Ana in 1587, Spain realized it had to do more to protect the Manila-Acapulco route, perhaps by establishing forts in areas where the pirates were likely to strike. 

In 1602, Spain authorized Sebastian Vizcaino to explore the coast of Alta California.  Not recognizing the area that Cabrillo had named San Miguel, Vizcaino gave the bay and the city that would spring up in its vicinity its modern name of San Diego.  Homeport to the MS Rotterdam, San Diego was our final port in a brief, but fascinating, excursion into Spanish colonial history.

Next: Animals in Cruise Ports

OECD mischaracterizes Israel’s economy

January 23, 2010 1 comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Israel is usually in the headlines about war, terror, great power efforts to make peace, or some other bloody or politically charged issue. This note is not about any of that exciting stuff, but deals with the way others and Israelis often view themselves. That may have something to do with having the world’s most popular publication assign us the label of Chosen People living in what the same book calls God’s Promised Land. Extremism is the language in dealing with Israel. Adversaries or our own domestic critics think it is the worst, and some friends consider it only a small measure removed from Paradise.

Recently some ranking officials of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development visited Israel to wrap up the country’s application for membership. The OECD is a prestigious organization, arguably of the world’s best countries, growing out of the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Israel is expected to join within the coming months, and that will add another mark of distinction to a place thought by many to be a pariah.

What has marked the visit of OECD dignataries is their statements that Israel would be the poorest member, as well as most marked by inequality between its well-to-do and poor. The allegations have been repeated by left of center Israeli politicians, including the distinguished economist and former university president, Avishay Braverman, who is serving as a minister in the government with responsibility for minorities. Braverman appeared on a discussion program to assert that he would work to assure the entry of Israel to the OECD, and would press his colleagues in the government to allocate more resources to the underprivileged Arab sector. Joining him on the program was a prominent Arab Member of Knesset. Mohammed Barake discounted Braverman’s promises, and demanded that the OECD suspend Israel’s membership application on account of its discrimination against Arabs.

Even a minister from the right-of-center Likud signed on to the claims that Israel would be the poorest and least equal of the OECD members. Or maybe this minister was seeking to get something for his education portfolio in the discussion about membership. Gideon Sa’ar said that the OECD report was a reflection of the reality of Israel’s society. 

“Investment in human capital and higher education is the future of Israel . . .We are going to make every effort to improve teacher skills and qualifications and ease the entry and participation in education for the Arab and haredi sector.”
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1263147943073&agename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Sounds good, insofar as it comes from reputable people, but it ain’t so.

Israel would be neither the poorest nor the least egalitarian of the OECD members. Data from the World Bank indicate that on a common measure–Gross Domestic Product per capita–Israel scores wealthier than existing OECD members Portugal, the Czech Republic, South Korea, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Mexico. On a common measure of income equality (Gini coefficient), it scores more egalitarian than OECD members Turkey, United States, and Mexico, and the Gini coefficients for Portugal and Japan are only fractionally in the direction of greater income equality than Israel’s.

The distinguished people who comment inaccurately on Israel’s poverty and inequality make more sense when they speak about other traits of the country. They emphasize that the ultra-Orthodox and Arab minorities are poorer than the average. That is true, but both owe some of their poverty to themselves and the politicians who represent them. The ultra-Orthodox volunteer for poverty. The men avoid work for prolonged study of religious texts. Their families live on the incomes of wives as teachers or in other low-paid occupations, and the payment of poverty-level stipends to mature yeshiva students and child allowances for their large families. These payments–and the continued abstention of ultra-Orthodox men from the workforce–reflect the importance of ultra-Orthodox parties for government coalitions.

Arab family incomes are actually closer to those of the Jewish majority than are comparable figures for minorities and majorities in the United States. That is not a great compliment for Israeli egalitarianism, insofar as the United States is a prominent outlier among wealthy countries, noted for its lack of equality. Statistics from the Central Intelligence Agency rank the United States close to the Philippines, Uganda, Jamaica, Uruguay, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Iran and Nigeria, and far from Western European democracies on the conventional measure of income equality.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/rawdata_2172.text

Israel’s Arabs might gain a larger share of the country’s opportunities if the parties that most of them vote for learned the political game of going along to get along. Instead of trading their 11 votes in the Knesset for their constituents’ benefits, the Arab parties continue to stand united in opposition to whoever is in the government. Severe criticism rather than cooperation is the name of their game. For someone who sees the trading of political support for benefits as the key of civilization, the Arabs who vote for those parties get what they deserve.

Some of you have ridiculed my claim that Israel is a normal country. You are partly right. Thanks to those who would sanctify or demonize it, Israel is different from other countries. But if you look at reputable statistics, most extreme claims pro or con prove to be false. The most prominent indicators that show it to be abnormal are that 80 percent of the population is Jewish, and that it allocates two or three times the proportion of its resources to defense compared to other western democracies. The defense indicator reflects the chronic aggression threatened by Israel’s neighbors, which makes them far less normal than Israel itself.

And if any of you object to my designation of Israel as a western democracy, go read something else.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Climate change poses question ‘Will Israel be here in 2500’?

December 26, 2009 1 comment

By Danny Bloom

CHIAYI CITY, Taiwan — Two recent newspaper articles about climate change in the far distant
future, say 2500 or so, (titled, respectively, “How much more proof is needed for people to act?” and “Ignoring the future — the psychology of denial”) emphasized the importance of facing major issues that will have an impact on the future of the human species.

Climate change is indeed an issue that is on everyone’s mind, and while Israel seems to be far removed from the experts who recently made their way to Copenhagen to try to hammer out blueprints to prevent global warming from having a Doomsday impact on humankind, Israel will also be on the front lines of these issues. Why? Because Israel will not exist as a country by the year 2500. Everyone there will have migrated north to Russia and Alaska.

Despite most observers’ belief that solutions lie in mitigation, there are a growing number of climatologists and scientists who believe that the A-word — adaptation — must be confronted head-on, too. The fact is — despite the head-in-the-sand protestations of deniers like former Alaskan Governor Sara Palin in the US — that we cannot stop climate change or global warming. The Earth’s atmosphere has already passed the tipping point, and in the next 500 years, temperatures and sea levels will rise considerably and millions, even billions, of people from the tropical and temperate zones will be forced to migrate in search of food, fuel and shelter. This includes the people of Israel.

By the year 2500, Israel will be largely uninhabited, except for a few stragglers eking out a subsistence life in the Golan Heights. The rest of the population will have migrated north to Russia’s northern coast or northern parts of Alaska and Canada to find safe harbor from the devastating impact of global warming.

Okay, how do I know all this, you ask? I don’t know. I am just saying that we all must be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

By the year 2500, most likely, Israelis en masse will have left the country for faraway northern regions to find shelter in UN-funded climate refuges in places such as Russia, Canada and Alaska. Israeli climate refugees will join millions of others from India, Vietnam,Thailand, Japan and the Philippines. It won’t be a pretty picture.

When I asked a professor at National Taiwan University in Taipei if this was a possible future scenario for Israel and other nations in the Middle East some 500 years from now, he said it was very possible, and that these issues needed to be addressed now, if only as a thought exercise, and even if it all sounded like a science fiction movie script. When I asked acclaimed British scientist James Lovelock if such a scenario for Israel was likely, he said to me in an e-mail: “It may very well happen, yes.”

We humans cannot engineer our way out of global warming, although
scientists who believe in geo-engineering have offered theories on how
to do it. There are no easy fixes. Humankind has pumped too many
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the result of the industrial
revolution that gave us trains, planes, automobiles and much more,
enabling us to live comfortable and trendy lives — and now there is so
much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the Earth cannot recover.

Israel, like the rest of the world, is doomed to a bleak future filled with billions of climate refugees seeking shelter in the far north, and
in places like New Zealand, Tasmania and Antarctica in the far south.

Meetings in Copenhagen and Rio de Janeiro and at the UN in Manhattan
will not stop global warming.

What we need to focus on now is preparing future generations for what
our world will become in the next 500 years and how best to survive
it.

For the next 100 to 200 years or so, life will go on as normal in
Israel in terms of climate change and global warming issues. There is
nothing to worry about now. For the next 100 years posh department
stores will hawk their trendy items, computer firms will launch their
latest gadgets and airline companies will continue to offer passengers
quick passage here and there, to the Maldives and to Manhattan, for
business and for pleasure.

But in the next 500 years, according to Lovelock and other scientists
who are not afraid to think outside the box and push the envelope,
things are going to get bad. Unspeakably bad.

Those of us who are alive today won’t suffer, and the next few
generations will be fine, too. The big trouble will probably start
around 2200 — and last for some 300 years or so.

By 2500, Israel will be history, and so will be all the nations of Africa,
Asia, the Americas and Europe.

We are entering uncharted waters, and as the waters rise and the
temperatures go up, future generations will have some important
choices to make: where to live, how to live, how to grow food, how to
power their climate refugee settlements, how to plan and how to pray.

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Danny Bloom is a Jewish writer based in Taiwan where he blogs daily
about climate change and global warming at his “Northwardho” blog.