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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.

Real estate developer Paul Amir to receive honorary doctorate from University of Haifa

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

HAIFA (Press Release)–The University of Haifa will award the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, honoris causa, to Paul Amir, businessman, philanthropist, and a leading figure in the Jewish community of Los Angeles, during the University’s 38th Meeting of the Board of Governors, which will take place on June 1-3.

The honorary doctorate will be conferred upon  Amir in recognition of his contribution to the strengthening and empowerment of education and culture in Israel and for advancing academic excellence.

The Senate of the University emphasized  Amir’s longstanding support of the University of Haifa and his commitment to the University as President of the American Society of the University of Haifa for many years and as an esteemed member of the University’s Board of Governors; his contribution to academic excellence through provision of scholarships for excellent doctoral students; and his generous support of and assistance in the physical and academic development of the University.

Born in Slovakia, where he survived the Holocaust as a young boy, Amir immigrated to Israel in 1946 with the “Youth Aliya” organization. With the outbreak of the War of Independence he was part of a group sent to Kibbutz Yechiam in the Galilee, where he lived until 1960, when he moved to the United States. There he married Herta and together they established Amir Development Company, a real estate company active in a number of U.S. states.

Amir founded an international foundation that provides significant support to educational and cultural institutions around the world, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Israel Museum. With the help of a donation by Mr. and Mrs. Amir, the University has established a scholarship program for excelling doctoral students in their name. Mr. Amir is presently active as a member of the Executive Committee of the Israel Museum and of Tel Aviv Museum, and Mrs. Amir is closely involved with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

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Preceding provided by the University of Haifa

ADL lauds walkout on Ahmadinejad’s nuclear speech at U.N. conference

May 3, 2010 Leave a comment
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday praised the countries whose delegates walked out on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at a United Nations conference after he accused the U.S., Israel and an unspecified European country of threatening Iran with nuclear weapons.
The Iranian president was delivering remarks to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review conference.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director issued the following statement:
 
While there may be legal and diplomatic obligations to grant Ahmadinejad the UN podium, there is also a moral obligation to condemn his words, his actions and what he stands for. Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, denies there are homosexuals in Iran, and denies the existence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. To this list of lies he added another – that the U.S. and Israel pose a nuclear threat to Iran, when in fact the opposite is true.
 
“We appreciate the gesture made by those states that walked out, for it sends a strong personal message to Ahmadinejad that his rants do not deserve the respect of an audience. We also appreciate UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s preemptive and public declaration that ‘the onus is on Iran’ to resolve this crisis.
 
“Ahmadinejad’s presence at the NPT conference is a perfect opportunity for the international community to send him the message that he needs to hear: If Iran doesn’t shut down its nuclear weapons program, there will be severe consequences.”
 
Representatives from the United States, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom left the room as Ahmadinejad opened his remarks. Canada reportedly boycotted the speech from the outset.

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Preceding provided by the Anti-Defamation League

 

Second time around

April 21, 2010 1 comment

By David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO–I am asked once in a while as to why I am motivated to travel to obscure, lesser known corners of the world to conduct and record music fitting the same description. Reminiscing about two trips I took fifteen years ago, my answer could be, “How many people you and I know who live in our part of the world, would have the opportunity to visit a Slovak castle to hear a recital featuring a bass clarinetist from Central Florida, playing Chopin?” This is one of the innumerable off-beat and unique experiences which are part of a life of a traveling performer. The splashes of life one gets to observe, the conversations, foods, and places, are simply indescribably varied, amusing, touching, and rich in color and human insights.

In my first visit to Kosice, Slovakia, I conducted recording sessions of three concertos of two pianos and orchestra. The second time, my work with the Slovak State Philharmonic was devoted to the music of a single composer, Nicolas Flagello. In seven recording sessions of three hours each, we recorded two piano concertos, a violin fantasy, and two overtures of this composer. The solo artists who joined me in Kosice were pianist Tatjana Rankovich, and the award-winning violinist Elmar Oliviera. The results were very satisfying, and the commercial recordings that followed have been favorably reviewed.

What made the second trip different than the first is that I was walking into known elements: The orchestra, the musicians, management, hall, and technical crew. We all knew each other, and the work proceeded smoothly. I knew exactly how well these musicians could play, and they did not disappoint.

Other influencing factors which may not be important in the larger picture, but contribute significantly to a good experience, are the logistics involved. Flights, customs, currency, hotel, food, basic words and phrases in the local language, weather, and location of the orchestra hall, all come into play. It makes life a lot easier and structured, allowing more time to creativity.

The Philharmonic Hall in Kosice, a magnificent building, was originally a synagogue. It was converted into a concert venue around the time of World War II, when there were practically no Jews left in the city. I was, however, treated to a Kosher restaurant that apparently, never closed; it was richly decorated with Hebraic artwork and phrases, including a very prominent Magen David.

With all the host musicians and staff, it is natural that in the second time around, one is greeted with more smiles, attention, and warmth. The Kosice musicians are by nature very kind and responsive, but in my encore visit, they were even friendlier. This being the fifth Eastern European with which I had worked up to that time, certain patterns became apparent. In general, orchestral musicians are a jaded, suspicious bunch; they are frequently facing tyrannical, egotistic conductors who care little of their condition. Obviously, any new face on the podium is looked upon with caution and doubt. As I wrote in recent columns, there are many conductors who are charlatans, impostors, and egomaniacs, big and small, harassing and many times insulting musicians everywhere, with little or no mercy, courtesy, or sensitivity. This may be even truer in former Soviet controlled republics, where a sweatshop atmosphere prevailed for orchestral musicians. They were routinely humiliated, badly paid, and although appreciated by the popular culture and propaganda, were no more than a tool to glorify the system, the conductors, and the soloists.

A familiar, friendly guest artist, who is a known entity, is obviously more welcome. This attitude reflects directly in the music they produce; it is far more vivid, technically better, and the results come quicker.

Another fascinating aspect to my Eastern European conducting and recording visits is to see the non-musical evolution of the cultures. It is impossible to fully describe the progress I have witnessed, starting with the Communist times, the liberation of these countries, and where they are today, to say nothing of fifteen years ago. Think of so many daily routines, services, and conveniences which we take for granted in the West; most of them did not exist until a few years ago in what we called the Eastern Bloc. It is sufficient to say that I have seen phenomenal advancements in maters such as credit cards, banks, hotels, taxis, airports, food, telephone calls, room service, menus, religious freedom, and political freedom of expression, consumer products, and tourist information.

In one memorable visit to a sheet music store, I purchased about 40 pounds (in weight, not money) of conductors’ orchestral scores for the local rate of exchange which converted to only two U.S. dollars! This same haul would cost, probably thousands of dollars in Western Europe or the U.S. Both the store clerks and I parted ways with a smile.

The American influence, for better or worse, is everywhere. You can not escape our pop culture, soft drinks, rock music, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and so on.

The country of Czchekoslovakia freed itself from the Soviet Union in 1991. Two years later, however, it decided to split again, into the Czech and Slovak Republics. This was a peaceful divorce, albeit a purely political one; the top leaders decided this, not the people themselves. As a result, not a single person whom I asked if this separation was beneficial to both groups spoke positively about it. (I talked to both Slovaks and Czechs). Every Slovak with whom I conversed had good things to say about the neighbor Czechs, but expressed that the separation was simply unnecessary.

*Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and a guest conductor of professional orchestras around the world.

Obama sends special message on Israel’s Independence Day

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Israeli Independence 1948

(WJC)–On Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, US President Barack Obama said that the relationship between Israel and America “will only be strengthened in the months and years to come.” In a special statement he declared: “On the 62nd anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, I join the American people in congratulating the government and people of Israel on this celebration of their independence. To this day we continue to share a strong, unbreakable bond of friendship between our two nations, anchored by the United States’ enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”

The president added: “Minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, realizing the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland, the United States became the first country to recognize Israel.” Obama also said his administration would continue to work toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I look forward to continuing our efforts with Israel to achieve comprehensive peace and security in the region, including a two-state solution, and to working together to counter the forces that threaten Israel, the United States, and the world,” he stated, adding: “On this day, we once again honor the extraordinary achievements of the people of Israel, and their deep and abiding friendship with the American people. I offer my best wishes to President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel as they celebrate this happy occasion.”

Meanwhile, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak sent a letter to President Shimon Peres in which he calls for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Other world leaders including England’s Queen Elizabeth II, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German President Horst Köhler, Dutch Queen Beatrix, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and leaders of Slovakia and Kazakhstan also sent greetings to Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The State of Israel was founded in May 1948 when David Ben Gurion and other leaders made the declaration of independence in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (see picture).

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Preceding provided by world Jewish Congress

UN body suggests Israel should pay compensation to people in Gaza

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

 (WJC)–In Geneva, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has voted to form a committee of experts to evaluate the demand by the Goldstone Committee that Israel and Hamas launch independent investigations into their actions during the Gaza war in 2009. The UN body also voted that Israel should pay Palestinians reparations for loss and damages suffered during Operation Cast Lead. However, the 47-nation council did not call for similar payments by Palestinians to Israelis.

Richard Goldstone

The proposal sponsored by Pakistan passed by a majority of 29 to 6, with 11 abstentions. The United States and five European countries on the council – Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine – voted against the resolution, while Belgium, France and the United Kingdom abstained.

“No such assessment committee has been formed by this council before,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Aharon Leshno Yaar, told the council ahead of the vote, adding: “This resolution is so biased and one-sided, so defamatory, that it crosses far over the line of being ‘only’ anti-Israeli,” he said

The retired South African judge Richard Goldstone and three other members of a special committee produced a report in 2009 which accuses both Israelis and Palestinians of having committed possible war crimes in Gaza, but the bulk of the report focused on Israel.

Leshno Yaar told the council that there was no need for a new committee of experts. It “clearly contradicts and duplicates last month’s General Assembly resolution that asked the secretary-general to report on investigations by the end of July, as the committee of experts will shoot out another report, less than two months later, in September,” the Israeli ambassador told the Human Rights Council.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

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.