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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.

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Jerusalem tourism waxes and wanes with international politics

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–More than two million overseas visitors arrived in Jerusalem during a recent year. The attractions are well maintained places linked to individuals and events featured in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and a functioning Old City enclosed by walls built in ancient times and last reconstructed in the 16th century. The Old City offers sites and shopping for tourists, and four distinctive neighborhoods that are the homes of 30,000 Jews, Muslims, Armenians and other Christians. Only a short ride away is Bethlehem, equally compelling for those wanting to see the roots of Christianity. Jericho is not much further in another direction. It offers winter visitors a chance to dine comfortably in an outdoor restaurant, while ten miles away in Jerusalem it may be raining and close to freezing.
While the numbers coming to Jerusalem are impressive, and often a nuisance to locals having to cope with crowds and traffic, the city ranks lower than 50 others in the numbers of tourists it attracts. London, New York, Bangkok, Paris, and Rome attract from three to seven times the number of international tourists as Jerusalem. Dublin, Amsterdam, and Prague get twice as many, while even Kiev and Bucharest, plus resorts near Bangkok attract 50 percent more international visitors than Jerusalem.

Jerusalem may have more of a mystic pull than these other places. The “Jerusalem syndrome” is a documented condition whereby some visitors believe themselves to be biblical characters. Jewish and Christian sufferers act as David, Jesus, or some other figure associated with their faith. I am not aware of visitors to London and Paris thinking that they are Henry VIII, Napoleon, or any of the other figures associated with local history.
Why does Jerusalem rank only #51 on a sophisticated ranking of international tourism? 
Distance has something to do with it. Visitors to Western Europe can avail themselves of numerous attractive destinations as part of the same trip from home. There are decent beaches and other features in Tel Aviv and Netanya, but they attract only 60 and 10 percent of the overseas visitors as Jerusalem. Tiberias is on the Sea of Galilee and close to sites important to Christians, but draws only 25 percent of the number of visitors to Jerusalem. 
 
There are other sites in countries close to Jerusalem, notably Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, but the borders of the Middle East are not as easy to cross as those of Western Europe. For some years now Israeli security personnel have not allowed Israeli Jews to visit Bethlehem or Jericho without special permits, and others have to pass through barriers and inspections meant to protect us.

Politics and tension are more likely to figure in a decision to visit Jerusalem than other cities. The number of overseas tourists to Israel dropped from 2.4 million in 2000, which was mostly prior to the onset of the latest intifada, to a bit over one million in 2003, which was one of the bloodiest years. Numbers increased to 1.9 million by 2005 when the violence had diminished significantly. No other country included in the regions of Europe and the Mediterranean surveyed by the United Nations tourist agency showed comparable variations in the same period. Even on a mundane issue like this, the U.N. is unable to consider Israel part of the Middle East region, which includes all of the countries bordering it and Palestine.

Jerusalem has drawn more tourists that some well-known sites in Europe. It does better than Florence and Venice, and is pretty much tied with Athens. Why less than Kiev and Bucharest? There are mysteries in the world of tourism that may boil down to nothing more than current fashion or a lack of precision in the numbers.

Tourist flows change with politics and economics. Thirty years ago there was virtually no direct travel between Israel, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Now Russian visitors are in second place behind those from the United States; there are sizable numbers from Ukraine and Poland. Thousands come each year from India, Korea, Japan, China, and Nigeria. Indonesia and Morocco receive Israelis and send visitors to Israel, even though there are no formal diplomatic relations. There are even a few hundred visitors annually from Malaysia and Iran, whose officials are usually among our most intense critics .

My latest Jerusalem experience may be part of a multicultural gesture to attract overseas visitors, or it may reflect nothing more than the lack of experience or attention by the person responsible. While I usually pay no attention to the music piped into the exercise room at the university gym, this morning I became alert to something familiar. It was Silent Night, in the English version I was required to sing many years ago at the Highland School. But only in December. Never in July.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish News

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Opposition leader speaks on Hizb utTahir

CANBERRA, 21 July –  Australian opposition Leader Tony Abbott has conceded that members of Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir hold concerning views, but as long as they do not incite terrorism, the group has a place in Australian society.

Speaking to radio shock jock Alan Jones last week, Abbott said if reports that the group was
agitating to establish an Islamic caliphate were correct, it would be “abominable, absolutely abominable”.

But he continued: “The general principle in this country is that we don’t punish bad thoughts, we don’t even punish bad words, as long as those words don’t amount to incitement to break the law.”

Hizb ut-Tahrir ­ an international Islamist group that has a small branch in Australia ­ is banned
in some countries, mostly in the Middle East. It has come under fire on a variety of fronts, not
least because of its anti-Semitic rants. and calls for the eradication of the Jewish State.
The Bangladesh arm of the group released a statement earlier this year calling on Muslims to
“teach the Jews a lesson” and “march forth to  fight them, eradicate their entity and purify the earth of their filth”.

In 2007, then attorney-general Philip Ruddock oversaw an investigation into possible terrorist
links with the local branch, but eventually decided not to proscribe the group.

Abbott said the group has very limited support in  this country at the moment, and argued the
mainstream Muslim community is not behind it. “My  hope, my expectation, my confidence is that this  is a minority view among Australian Muslims, but I’ve got to say anything that looks like an incentive, an incitement to break the law, is something [that] should certainly attract the very closest interest from the law enforcement agencies.”

Hizb ut-Tahrir has come back into focus after hosting a conference in Sydney earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said it would be inappropriate to
confirm or deny whether the group is under investigation by Australia’s intelligence agencies.

*
Union for Progressive Judaism condemns Israeli Convdersion Bill

MELBOURNE, 22 July – The local Union for  Progressive Judaism (UPJ) has added its voice to global Reform and Conservative condemnation of attempts to push a conversion Bill through the Knesset.

Sponsored by Yisrael Beitenu MK David Rotem, the Bill would delegate the authority to municipal rabbis to carry out conversions to, in an attempt to streamline the conversion process for non-Jewish Israelis.

The Bill’s opponents complain that the same clause effectively provides legal backing for the
authority of the Orthodox rabbinate over all conversions, and threatens the status of those
who converted overseas through non-Orthodox rabbis.

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, signed by UPJ president David Robinson and other senior officials, Progressive Judaism’s Asia-Pacific roof body expressed “great disappointment and shock” at news that Rotem had taken action to drive the Bill through the Knesset without coordination with representatives of all streams of Judaism.

Rotem’s action also drew the condemnation of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who had been working to bridge Diaspora and Israeli concerns over the Bill since it was proposed earlier in the year.  While American Jewish organisations have been most vocal in speaking out against the Bill, the UPJ rejected Rotem’s view that some concerns about the proposed legislation are solely American, writing “We believe that it is important for you to know that the grave concerns expressed about this legislation extend far beyond the United States .

“We join the leadership of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in viewing this Bill in its
current form as an affront to all Progressive and Conservative Jews.”

The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) also weighed into the debate. ZFA president Philip
Chester wrote a letter to Netanyahu, warning that the passage of such legislation “would do
incalulable harm to the unity of the Jewish people”.

Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, the advocacy arm of the Progressive movement in Israel, told The AJN during a recent visit to Australia that those
parts of the Bill “bring us back from our tremendous achievement [in Israel’s Supreme Court] of six years ago that allReform and Conservative conversions all around the world are recognised in Israel for purposes of aliyah.”

Rotem, defending the Bill on Monday, told The Jerusalem Post that he was unwilling to delay
resolving a problem that affects thousands of immigrants.

*
*
Controversy or birthright

SYDNEY,  23 July – Australian Birthright program organisers have rejected reports in the
international media claiming a recent group visit to Hebron was “unprecedented”.

An article, first published in the New York Jewish Week last week, reported that the trip
made by the Australian Chabad Campus Birthright  group earlier this month also “raised questions about whether the program has shifted policy on visits to the West Bank”.

But Rabbi Yehudah deVries, who is responsible for the Australian Chavaya Taglit-Birthright Israel trips for Chabad Campus students, said that those undertaking the extended program for longer than the 10-day free trip have always visited Hebron, with the exception being the past two years.

Rabbi deVries explained he was approached by Birthright’s official trip organiser, Israel
Experience, to arrange the visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs, or Ma’arat HaMachpela, the site
where ­ according to the Torah ­ Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca and Leah are buried.

“The entire 10-day program was submitted for Taglit’s approval, as always, and was, as always, approved.

“This includes security approval,” he explained.

“The trip went ahead and was run according to exact security requirements,”

Rabbi deVries said security would not have been approved if the army, police and education
department had deemed the visit to be a potential risk.

“If we can visit Kibbutz Misgav Am, which is in the firing range of Hezbollah on the Lebanese
border; we stand on a Golan Heights border lookout at Mizpe Gadot and look into Syria, then why make a point ofHebron being either dangerous or political?” Rabbi deVries questioned.

And as for the politics of the visit?

“Politics should not be brought to the groups. Taglit-Birthright Israel is most young people’s
first experience of the land of Israel. Let them see as much as possible . and let them make
informed decisions based on their own intellect and experience,” he said.

The Zionist Federation’s Israel Programs coordinator Brendan Bensky said the visit formed
part of the Chabad Campus group’s Jewish historical aspect and was approved by Birthright.
This trip was the first time an Australian group undertook the Birthright program mid-year.

*
Israel a point of difference in Australian election campaign

CANBERRA, 23 July – Just two days into the election campaign, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott touted his party’s “unshakable commitment” to Israel.

Speaking at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch in Melbourne on Monday, Abbott took the opportunity to criticise the Rudd-Gillard Government’s record towards Israel.

“I have to say that it’s a little disappointing, given the deep affinity between the Australian
people and the Israeli people that the current Australian Government has somewhat weakened our longstanding bipartisanship on Israel,” Abbott said before the crowd of more than 1000
businesspeople and Liberal Party faithful.

“I want to reiterate here today, the Coalition’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and I want to assure you that a Coalition government would never support a one-sided United Nations resolution against Israel to curry favour with an anti-Israel majority in the General Assembly,” he said.

He continued: “And we would never overreact to any international incident, because we appreciate that Israel is under existential threat in a way that almost no other country in the world is.”

He told guests, including dozens of the nation’s finest journalists, who were following Abbott’s
campaign trail, that Australia needs to appreciate that “a diminished Israel diminishes the West”.

The Opposition Leader also used the opportunity to pay tribute to the achievements of the local Jewish community. He commented that Australia is the only country in the world, apart from Israel, where Jewish people have occupied the highest offices, including as the governor-general.

Among guests at the Crown Casino lunch were Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, Shadow Minister for Finance Andrew Robb, Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu and former treasurer Peter Costello.

Costello, who travelled with Julia Gillard to Israel last year for the Australia-Israel
Leadership Forum, delivered the vote of thanks, endorsing his former cabinet colleague’s tilt at the top job.

“Tony Abbott is a man of commitment and a man of drive,” Costello said. “I know he was party of a very successful government, I don’t know that about Julia Gillard.”

*
Canadian MP Calls on Australia to charge Iran with conspiracy to commit genocide

MELBOURNE, 22 July-  Australia should be the first country to refer Iran to the United Nation Security Council, a senior Canadian politician said this week.

Irwin Cotler delivered keynote addresses and met politicians from both sides this week during a whirlwind tour of Australia supported by the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC).

The human rights law professor and former Canadian attorney-general said Australia, as a
signatory to the United Nations genocide convention, needs to “exercise leadership” and
refer Iran to the UN Security Council for conspiracy to commit genocide.

When probed as to why his country, which for many years has been outspoken on preventing genocide, would not do that itself, Cotler said “political leaders live in an insular bubble where issues of the day overwhelm these issues”.

“The country that does it first will be applauded by history,” he told the audience

He added that if Australia did refer Iran for investigation, Canada would certainly support the move.

Cotler, who chairs the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, which recently completed a report on “The danger of a nuclear, genocidal and rights-violating Iran, said the evidence is
available to indict Iran over conspiracy to commit genocide.

The report states: “Repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and ‘prophecies’ of its
demise all work to normalise the idea of genocide in the minds of the Iranian people. Articulated in the context of demonising rhetoric implying a clash of civilisations, calls for the
annihilation of the Jewish State begin appearing not only moral and justifiable, but natural as well.”

Asked why, if the evidence is clear, Iran has managed to escape scrutiny, Cotler replied: “It
certainly does make a mockery of international law and it sustains a culture of impunity”.

“The Iranian regime can intensify incitement, knowing they won’t be held to account,” he said.

Cotler added that it is not just through incitement to genocide that the Iranian regime
threatens global stability. He said suspected nuclear weapons development, Iran’s sponsorship
of terrorist organisations and violations of the rights of the Iranian people were four distinct
threats posed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

*
Ashley Brown selected for Australia Under 19 Football training squad

Ashley Brown joined North Caulfield Maccabi Junior Football club in 2010 and is a part of the
successful U18 Youth Development Programme, and plays in the Boys U16 and Under 18 competition.

Ashley will hopefully be selected later this year to once again compete in the Asian Qualifiers. She has just returned from the FFA Nationals in Coffs Harbour where she competed in the Victorian U17 girls team and was selected in the All Stars team (representing the best players of the tournament). Ashley has a long and impressive  record of achievement on the football filed.

In 2006, Ashley aged 11 made the Victorian Primary Schools State soccer team, and was
included in the National Training Centre in Victoria for advanced players. At the time she
was the youngest player ever to be included in that squad.

In 2007, aged 12 and in 2008 aged 13, she was part of the Victorian State u15 team. In 2008 she was selected in the U17 Australian Team and travelled to Malaysia to compete in the Asian
Qualifiers. She was in the starting lining up playing against Thailand and Myanmar and the team finished top of their group. In 2009 Ashley won the Maccabi Victoria Deloitte’s Rising Star Award and in 2009, she was selected again in the Australian U 17 squad for the Asian Qualifiers (but unfortunately had to withdraw three days before due to injury). In
January 2009 Ashley represented Victoria in the National Futsal Championships.

*
Tragic end to World Cup trip

MELBOURNE, 23 July–A local teenager critically injured in a diving accident in Malaysia died in Melbourne on Thursday.

On Tuesday, an air ambulance carried 14-year-old Reagan Milstein and his mother Tamara home from Singapore, where he had spent 18 days in hospital in a critical condition.

Upon arrival, he was taken straight to Melbourne’s Monash Medical Centre, where he remained in intensive care.

His mother Tamara said on Tuesday that while the family were very relieved to have their son
safely home, they now “embark upon the next stage of this sad journey where the road ahead will be very difficult and filled with uncertainty”.

“The family would like to express their immense gratitude to friends, family and the wider
community who have provided so much comfort and  support and helped them all cope during this tragic time,” she said.

Tributes flooded in to the Facebook group ‘Regan’s Recovery’. Family, friends and other
members of the community had been posting their wishes and prayers on the Facebook page since the accident.

*

Australian Education Minister stand on Holocaust Studies

CANBERRA, 26 July – Despite lobbying from the Jewish community, Education Minister Simon Crean failed last weekend to commit to compulsory Holocaust education in Australian schools.

Speaking to a standing-room only audience at the opening of the Jewish Holocaust Centre’s
refurbished main exhibition on Sunday, Crean praised the efforts of curator Jayne Josem.

“What struck me coming in was the joy, the happiness and the pride when I came in, but
you’re quickly brought back to perspective when you’re taken through the museum,” said the minister, whose full portfolio takes in education, employment, workplace relations and social inclusion.

Moving on to political matters, Crean discussed the draft national curriculum, which is open for public consultation until July 30. He outlined the option of year 10 students undertaking a
study of the Holocaust as part of their history classes.

“It is vital that our children are aware of the past and that they learn from the past,” he said.

But despite lobbying from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for Holocaust studies to be made compulsory, the Member for Hotham did not give any indication this would be happening.

“All students in year 10 will undertake a depth study of war and peace in the 20th century, this
includes the impact of World War II on the modern world and will give students the chance to study the history of the Holocaust,” the former opposition leader said.

He added that the curriculum authority was also charged with building lessons of tolerance and respect into the curriculum, which is set to be unveiled later this year.

“Good education does help deliver a good citizen [and] the Jewish Holocaust Centre does a great job in fostering that understanding and that belief in tolerance and acceptance and that belief in diversity,” he said.

Speaking immediately before Crean, Josem said that since its opening in 1984, more than a
quarter of a million students have been guided around the centre by a survivor guide. But she
spoke of the challenge with today’s students – who come to the centre with piercings, low-slung shorts, iPods and mobile phones.

“Our job here is to penetrate through their digital armoury and get them to think about why they’ve come.”

The museum’s new interactive story pods and modern presentation, which were developed with the input of survivors, will go some of the way to achieving that.

“They arrive indifferent . but they leave different,” she said.

More than 500 people braved the rain to attend Sunday’s opening, which was held in a marquee alongside the museum, with overflow crowds watching on screens inside the centre. As deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard had accepted an invitation to open the refurbished exhibition, but she sent Crean in her place because of a timing clash/

*
Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

 

Goodbye to all that! — An American Jew’s life in non-Christian Asia

January 16, 2010 1 comment

By Danny Bloom

[This commentary was originally written in 2002 and updated in early 2010.]

CHIAYI CITY, Taiwan — In a magazine article a few years back, a British expatriate in New York by the name of John Derbyshire wrote that a lingering form of antisemitism is alive and well in the United States — and always will be. Nothing new there, but his words were startling.

Derbyshire, who is not Jewish, wrote in an earlier piece in the rightwing National Review Online, when Joseph Lieberman was named as Al Gore’s running mate in the presidential election that year: “My own impression … is that Jews are widely, though very mildly, disliked in America. It may indeed be kosher to joke about the powerful; but it is all too human to resent them. In the circles I move in — working-
and middle-class Americans — antisemitic comments are quite common between intimates, though everybody understands they are de trop in any less restricted circles.”

Derbyshire comments about Jews being “widely, though mildly disliked in America” struck a personal note with me, because I have been living in Asia for the last 17 years and have found life here — in both Japan and Taiwan — to be completely free of the ugly elements of public and social antisemitism. In fact, it so enjoyable to live in
non-Western, non-Christian societies that are free of antisemitism that I plan to live in Asia for the rest of my life and never return to the US. Goodbye to all that.

I remember, when I first penned this essay in 2002, that a small epidemic of “Jew-dislike” seemed to have made the rounds of the US at that time, spawned by several controversies, both in print and on the Internet.

First, there was cartoonist Johnny Hart’s mildy offensive — to Jews and many Christians — Easter cartoon “B. C.,” that caused a major sensation when it was published, and in some cases not published, in April. Then there was Washington-based conservative Paul Weyrich’s Easter commentary online that repeated the old canard about the Jews being responsible for the death of Jesus. Then there was the New York Times Magazine story that related the anti-Jewish remarks of two NBA
basketball players.

Derbyshire had noted in another NRO essay: “A cold-eyed view of human
nature is always wisest, and my own cold eye tells me that antisemitism will be with us for as long as the Jews themselves.” He may be speaking the truth, at least as far as life in the Western  [read “Christianized”] world goes.

Of course, Jews have never had it so good in America, as the pundits like to say, and there is little overt antisemitism anywhere in North America. But to be honest, Jews are widely disliked — though “verymildly,” as Derbyshire put it — in America and always will be. It will never change.

A hundred years from now, Jews will remain “widely … though mildly” disliked in America. Why? For a host of complex reasons that define the very essence of Western Christendom, but which boil down to one thing: the Christian Gospels are in their very theological essence anti-Jewish and therefore anti-semitic. Sorry, but that’s the truth!

Living in non-Western, non-Christian cultures as I have for the last17 years here in Asia, I have found that social antisemitism simply does not exist in places like Japan, Thailand, Taiwan or South Korea.

Asian cartoonists do not draw Easter cartoons that show a menorah morphing into a cross. Asian writers do not publish online commentaries about so-called “Jewish cabals” in Hollywood or on Wall Street. Asian parents do not teach their children ancient myths about Jewish “Christ killers,” and they don’t speak at the dinner table in undertones of polite dislike for “those Jews.”

In Asia, Jews are an enigma, yes, an historical enigma, but they are not the object of theological scorn. It is so refreshing to live here. I have never been told by a Japanese or a Taiwanese person that I will go to “hell” because of who I am — or that my Jewish beliefs are wrong. Asians do not “think” this way.

It’s amazing — to me, a true 60-year-old innocent abroad — that when one moves to a land where the old Christian myths and hatreds and prejudices do not exist, and where neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament are taken at face value by the populace, how quickly quirky antisemitism and its ugly ramifications — for both Christiansand Jews — disappears, ghost-like, lost in the mists of ancient and
modern European and Middle Eastern history.

It is so refreshing to live here in Asia. As a Jew, as a human being, as an American. It’s the way life was meant to be.

**
Danny Bloom, a 1971 Tufts graduate and a native of Springfield, Mass., has lived in Japan and Taiwan for the last 18 years. The above oped commentary received over 5,000 page views on the Internet over the past 8 years.

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.

Human Rights Watch says migrants abused in many countries including Arab countries, Israel and U.S.

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)– Many governments’ policies toward migrants worldwide expose them to human rights abuses including labor exploitation, inadequate access to health care, and prolonged detention in poor, overcrowded conditions, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday in advance of International Migrants Day, on December 18, 2009.

A 25-page roundup of Human Rights Watch reporting on violations of migrants’ rights this year, “Slow Movement: Protection of Migrants’ Rights in 2009,”  includes coverage of China, Cuba, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

“Governments seem to forget that when men, women, and children migrate, they don’t leave their rights at home,” said Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “Instead of protecting people who already are at special risk of abuse, many governments further marginalize migrants, punish them, or push access to services out of reach.”

Research in Greece, Italy, Libya, Egypt, and Israel showed harsh policies toward arriving migrants, including lack of adequate screening to determine who is a refugee, arbitrary and indefinite detention, returning persons to countries where they risk abuse, and detention of children with adults. Aggressive policies to thwart migrants when they try to cross borders can be lethal. Since May, Egyptian border guards have killed at least 17 migrants trying to cross into Israel.

Both documented and undocumented migrants may face abuse or discrimination in their host cities and countries. Human Rights Watch has investigated pervasive mistreatment of migrant domestic workers and construction workers in the Middle East and Russia. Cheated by unscrupulous brokers and employers, these workers often told of excessive hours, unpaid wages, and confiscation of passports. In the worst cases, their situations amounted to forced labor and trafficking.

“Migrants form the backbone of many economies, performing the labor and services that people in their host countries depend on but won’t do themselves,” Varia said. “Instead of getting respect and the freedom and wages they are owed, they are treated as security threats, and in general, as undesirables to be pushed out of sight.”

Those apprehended for immigration offenses often face disproportionate punishments or prolonged detention in poor conditions. Human Rights Watch showed how the United States deports large numbers of documented migrants for nonviolent offenses with serious consequences for family unity and fails to provide adequate health care to migrants in detention. Immigration violations are sometimes treated as serious crimes, as in Malaysia, where punishments include imprisonment and caning. The fear of arrest and deportation also means that migrants may endure exploitative work conditions or avoid approaching authorities to report abuse.

“Governments have a right to control their borders, but they need to do so in a way that protects human rights,” Varia said. “Migrants who are abused are supposed to have access to legal remedies, regardless of their immigration status.”

Government attempts to control migrant populations within their territory often include discriminatory policies that broadly restrict migrants’ freedom of movement for no legitimate purpose, Human Rights Watch said.  For example, several provinces in Thailand require migrant workers be confined to their workplaces or homes at night and prohibit them from traveling within the province. In countries such as Malaysia and Italy, governments have condoned vigilante-style monitoring of migrants by civilian groups. Migration can increase the risk of infection with HIV, tuberculosis (TB) or flu, but discrimination against migrants can impede their access to care.

Human Rights Watch called on governments to make stronger commitments to migrants’ rights in 2010, including ratifying the International Covenant on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families. The group also urged governments to:

  • Reform immigration policies to facilitate documented migration that protects migrants’ rights, and to clamp down on intermediaries who deceive migrants or charge unlawful fees that leave migrants indebted and more vulnerable to exploitation;
  • Screen interdicted migrants, new arrivals, and migrants in detention in accordance with international standards, including identifying asylum seekers, trafficking victims, and other vulnerable people, and ensuring that unaccompanied children are treated according to their best interests;
  • Ensure access to a core minimum of health services regardless of citizenship or social origin, and repeal discriminatory provisions mandating automatic deportation of migrants living with HIV;
  • Improve labor standards and enforcement in accordance with international standards, including equal protection of domestic workers, and strengthen inspection mechanisms to ensure regular payment of wages and decent working conditions for migrants;
  • Investigate abuse and killings of migrants, whether by private citizens or government authorities, and prosecute fully through the relevant national laws while ensuring protection for migrants against retaliation. Investigations into abuse should be carried out irrespective of migrants’ immigration or contractual status.

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    Preceding provided by Human Rights Watch

Iran’s missile test spurs talk of sanctions, war

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

TEHRAN (WJC)–Iran test-fired a new version of its long-range Sajjil-2 missile on Wednesday and delivered the message that it is prepared to retaliate should Israel, the United States or anyone else attempt a military strike against its nuclear facilities. Images of the launch were shown on Iranian state television. Defense Minister Vahidi said that the new missile would be a “strong deterrent” against a possible attack. The missiles are capable of travelling 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers), putting Israel, the US bases in the Gulf region, parts of Turkey and south-eastern Europe within reach.

Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the missile test: “This is a matter of serious concern to the international community and it does make the case for us moving further on sanctions. We will treat this with the seriousness it deserves.” A US State Department spokesman said: “These kinds of tests generally undermine Iran’s claims of peaceful intentions,” adding that such actions would “increase the resolve of the international community to hold Iran accountable for its continued defiance of its international obligations.”

Meanwhile, the ‘Reuters’ news agency, quoting a senior Thai government security official, reports that weapons seized in Thailand from an impounded plane coming from North Korea were likely destined for Iran. “Some experts believe the weapons may be going to Iran, which has bought arms from North Korea in the past,” said the official, according to Reuters.

The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, warned that his movement would support Iran if Israel were to launch a military strike against its nuclear facilities. “If Israel attacks, it will be a threat for Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine but the nations in the region know how to confront it,” he said upon returning from Tehran, where he met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress