Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Guest Post: This Terror Attack Was Different

My 20 year old son, Raphael, was in a car at the time of the terror attack this week near Shilo, and arrived at the site of the attack, by chance, just moments afterwards. This is Raphael's story, feelings and thoughts. (I have translated this from the original Hebrew).

This time, it was not ‘just’ another name, another headline, which ran “a man died of his wounds from a terror attack at Gidon Junction”.

This time it was for-real; this time I saw the man; this time I touched him; I had felt him struggling to breathe with all his strength; I heard him wheezing in his efforts to stay alive; I smelled his sweat and his blood.

I am a local civilian resident of the village of Achia, and by a miracle I was saved from the shooting having arrived by car at the site on the road just minutes after the murderous attack.

I suddenly recalled what I had learned in a MDA medics course five years’ previously, and I immediately needed to treat the wounded; not fractures and dislocations, but I found myself surrounded by groaning people, with no ambulance yet at the scene, just a medic from our car who shouted out instructions to us. I helped in treating Malachi, who lay by the vehicle unconscious and with a bullet entry wound in his stomach and exit would from his thigh. We kept his air tract open and tried to stem the bleeding. Around me, others starting treating the other wounded, and from my point of view, there was one objective – to keep Malachi breathing.

The ambulances soon arrived and began to evacuate the wounded, as I tried to recall the instructions about how to correctly evacuate wounded people, and how I could assist to get this wounded man onto the stretcher.  We lifted him into the ambulance, which rushed him to the hospital.  

I also helped with evacuating another wounded man; this time I saw a man lying flat on the ground by the road with an entry and exist wound in his leg. I helped get him up, onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.

I looked around me and began to understand what had taken place; I saw the pock-marked vehicle, saw the blood on its floor, I understood that the accursed terrorists shot at them from a passing vbehciel and continued south – they must passed our car seconds after they started, successfully, to kill Jews.

All that day, I prayed for Malachi to recover, I was overwhelmed with concern for him and hoed with all my heart that he would survive. When I heard the tragic news that Malachi had died this was unlike hearing about other terror attacks, this time I had seen him dying, I had a connection, not just a bit, with the murdered man and the pain was stronger than I had felt for other victims, I felt that I should have helped him more, and if I had addressed the crisis differently, perhaps he would have survived…

When I saw the interview with Yair, the second wounded man I helped evacuate, and he thanked all those who had helped with treating them, I was very moved; even though I have heard many wounded people publicly thank their rescuers, this time was different.  

It was difficult to hear that Malachi died; it was even more difficult to see what had happened in the field and to know that Malachi will not be the last Jew to be murdered here, before the security forces will effectively protect us; Arabs murder Jews, whether we be right wing or left wing, without evoking a firm response, not vengeance, and not even deterrence. To murder Jews is like a hobby for these Arabs, because there is no price for them – they operate with impunity.

Maybe this should be changed?   Maybe the death sentence needs to be introduced for terrorists who murder? Maybe solitary confinement for terrorists for the rest of their lives?.

Malachi, God should avenge your blood. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Government Organized Philanthropy

 Einstein Koscher Essen und Trinken

"The community didn't have to spend a penny, the whole building program was paid by the German Government!"

This was how a local answered my question "but who paid for all this?!", when I was in Munich this week.

I was hugely impressed by the grand style three new buildings which constitute the center for the Jewish community there.

A stupendous and magnificent synagogue; a sizable Jewish museum; and a community center complex which houses a classy (and only) kosher restaurant, a school, and a comprehensive community administration (employing 120 people). The whole three-building facility is built with security in mind and there is a 24/7 security & access control, bullet-proof glass, etc.

With a weekly shul attendance which struggles for a quorum/minyan, and is mainly reliant on passers-through (like me), it was hard to understand how this whole project was financed. We are talking around $150m: according to a Washington Post report the shul cost $72m; Wikipedia says the museum cost $17m; I couldn't find information about the cost of the community center building - I guess $50m.

Another individual who lives in Munich and is involved in the Jewish community explained that the Government had funded it via the "Church Tax".

The history of Church Tax goes way back, even to pre-Christian times, and is still levied in many European countries. In Germany it amounts to around 8% of the income tax payable by an individual.

The Jewish community complex in Munich is a beneficiary of this system, and many Jews pay in their Church Tax for re-distribution to the Jewish community. There are probably around 10,000 self-identified Jews in Munich, out of almost 100,000 Jews who now live in Germany. If an individual chooses to opt-out, they might not be buried (also married, barmitzvas etc) by the community.

So the initial statement that the community didn't have to pay for these three magnificent buildings at the heart of Munich, and that it was paid for by the Government, is not quite the whole story.

Actually, it seems the Jewish community did pay the bill, organized and imposed by and via the German Government.

This seems to be a very effective system for organizing and funding Jewish communities and their facilities.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Shmuel from Hungary in Munich

Each time I travel, I ask myself whether or not to openly wear my kippa. 

As antisemitism is on the rise in Europe, many advise not openly wearing a kippa for safety purposes.

Almost without exception, I do wear my kippa abroad. And, thank G-d, I have never had an unpleasant experience.

On the contrary, all sorts of people approach me, because they see I am Jewish.

I am currently in Munich (a short ride from Dachau...).

As I arrived, and am making my way into town, a guy starts shouting at me "I love Jews!". And "I hate the bloody German Nazis!".

I approached the man and struck up a conversation with him.

Why does he love the Jews? Because he is from Hungary and he was a child in the Jewish neighborhood. Although a gentile, his mother called him Shmuel.

Why does he hate the Germans? Because, being called Shmuel, he is often the victim of anti-semitism in his adopted home in Germany. 

He produced a kippa from his pocket, and posed for my photo, before heading on his way. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Two Court Victories for Far Right Groups

Hilltop youth is the term generally used to describe the movement of far right wing national religious youngsters (usually teenagers) who settle new hilltops or 'outposts' in Judea and Samaria.

This group regularly comes into conflict with the law - indeed, it is almost part of their dogma. These settlements which they create are deemed illegal by Israel's Government.

Another linked group are Temple Mount activists. These are people who are trying to raise awareness among Jews of the practical importance of Temple Mount and to increase Jewish presence there.

There were two legal victories reported (on YNet and Makor Rishon) for these groups in recent days.

Around a dozen hill-top youth have been charged in court on various occasions of breaking into a military no-go-zone. Of particular note is Ramat Migron, a satellite settlement to the somewhat larger Migron, which itself was forcefully moved by the Government a few hundred metres from its location in Samaria.

In order to keep kids from setting up camp in Ramat Migron (which has no permanent building structures) the army declared it a closed military zone, and rounded up anyone there, charging them with entering the restricted zone.

Defence Lawyer Itzik Bam made the case that these military zone declarations were themselves illegal and were merely a cynical device to restrict citizens freedom of movement.

The judge agreed with Bam, and instructed that all such charges, including retroactively, should be cancelled forthwith, Dozens of hilltop youths who saw their criminal records cancelled, popped champagne corks (or at least opened their lemonade).

The second case was concerning a recent incident on Temple Mount.

A young man had been arrested and charged with disturbing the public peace on Temple Mount, due to fact that the authorities discovered posters in his bag.

The police asked the court issue a restraining order, banning the suspect from entering Temple Mount for 30 days.

The judge asked what the actual alleged offense was, as having posters in one's bag (left at the guard-station outside of Temple Mount) was not in itself an offense.

The police representative floundered, and admitted that the suspect had not actually committed an offense, but...

The judge cut him short and threw out the case. The whole case was heard and dismissed within three minutes.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Now Revealed - The Jewish Students' Plot in Newcastle

Israel's leadership has spotlighted the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) - with particular emphasis on the statements of the Stephane Richard, CEO of Orange telecomes giant in France, and of the British Studets Union, which has signed up for BDS.

Stephane Richard immediately apologised and retracted for his call to cut ties with Israel.

The British Government condemned the Nation Union of Students's (NUS) decision to boycott Israel.

Indeed, in my experience from three decades ago, when I was a student at Newcastle University, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to NUS's toxic attitude to Israel.

In the 1980's, when I was head of the tiny Newcastle University Jewish Society (JSOC), we faced daily verbal and political attacks by the Newcastle University's Student's Union (NUSU) upon our group.

There were regular motions in the SU debating chamber condemning Israel for the latest "masacres" of Palestinians, and declaring Israel to be a "racist state" and Zionism itself to be "a form of racism".

JSOC was the shrill voice defending Israel, with help from our allies at the Conservative Party (a minority but strong party in the NUSU) and with back up forces from the London based Jewish Students' Union.

At one stage, NUSU, by an overwhelmng majority (it always was) passed an anti-Israel motion which directly attacked our JSOC. The logic was that if Zionism is racism, then our JSOC must be a racist group. In effect, "the bloody Jews are racists".

And so our JSOC was banned.

As we all know, Jews and Zionists are alleged to conspire to overthrow democracy and, now 30 years later, I can release information which supports this libel. 

A quiet Jew was actually head of the Newcastle Students' Union at the time.

He told me, hushed, that he had quietly taken the ban-JSOC motion results out of the official Students Union ledger. Officially, there had been no motion, no vote, and the JSOC could continue to operate on campus.

He had erased the record, and so undermined the democratic process.

You've got to hand it to these Jews, no?!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

UnKosher Restaurant Caught by QR Code

My wife and I recently visited Haifa and decided to get a bite to eat at the local shopping mall...

Of the modest range of restaurnts in the food hall about three or four were "kosher".

We decied to go to the falafal store, which had large signs saying "kosher" and "Kosher under the Supervision of the Haifa Rabbinate".

As we took our first bites from the falafal, my wif asked me if I had checked the kosher certificate.

Although I recalled having checked the other restaurants, I was uncertain about whether I'd checked this one...

I put my falafal (which was rather good) down and asked a staff member whether they had a kosher certificate. "Sure!" they replied, and directed me to a certifcate on their wall.

Indeed, the cerificate was from the Haifa Rabbinate and it included a QR digital barcode for verification purposes.

According to the instructions on the certificate, one needs to download the Baduk App to check the QR code.

Feeling like a real nudnik, I followed the instructions, dowloadd the app, and took a pictue of the QR code.

"Not listed on the system!" the app reported.

I tried again, and received the same response.

I went back to the person seving the falafal and asked him whether there could be a problem with their kosher certification. He claimed to know nothing about any problems.

I asked to receive our money back on the falafal (but happy to pay for the bottled drinks).

At first he refused, so I asked to speak with his boss. They phoned up the boss, who, after some persuasion, agreed to return our money and to speak with me. He told me that the rabbinate charges "a fortune" for the supervision, so they'd decided to stop payments. He could not explain why the certificate was still on the wall.

Still hungry, we headed for the local supermaket and bought yummy yogurts. Kosher.

Moral: By very diligent in checking kosher certificates!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Erdogan Humbled

Yesterday's dramatic election in Turkey brought surprising results.

Although Turkey's most powerful politician Tayyip Erodogan, President of Turkey, was not standing, he was clearly the central player in that election.

Turkey's President is not elected by popular vote, and so Erdogan was not a candidate or even party leader.

Erdogan's party, AKP, is led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğşlu.

However, Erdogan set some very high bars for his party in the election - which AKP failed to jump over.

Whereas AKP achieved (again) being the largest party with a respectable 41% vote (Netanyahu could only dream of such a victory for Likud..), Erdogan had set an ambitious target of achieving a two thirds majority in parliament. Such a majority would have given the AKP the ability to change the country's Constitution, and invest substantially increased power in the Presidential (ie Erdogan's) position.

In light of this ambition, the election result are a blow to Erdogan's domination of Turkish politics since his rise to power in 2002.

Far from creating a two thirds power-base, the elections have not given AKP a working majority in the parliament.

Another aspect of this over-ambition, was the AKP's controversial decision to raise the election threshold to 10%, in order to block the Kurdish party, HDP, Turkey's third largest party electorally, from achieving representation in the Turkish parliament.

This plan backfired, on two fronts.

Firstly, HDP succeeded in passing the higher threshold, with around 13% of the popular vote.

Secondly, due to a formula in the election system, HDP's larger-than-expected voter turn out disproportionately impacted AKP's own representation in parliament.

The only unsurprising result in this election was the second party, the secular CHP, who remained with around 25% of the vote.

It is now unclear how the AKP will translate its status as the largest party, into a working Government. This will require a coalition. However, both HDP and CHP committed themselves during the elections to not join a AKP led government.    

While the composition of Turkey's next ruling government is uncertain, what is certain is that Erdogan's political over-ambitions, at least for now, have been placed in the dustbin of history.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Rabbi Riskin - Time to Retire?

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, has reached 75 years old. Mazeltov!

However, according to the current regulations, town rabbis, whose salaries are paid for by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, are required to retire when they reach 75; nevertheless, the Chief Rabbinate can decide to grant an extension for a further five years for a rabbi to continue their official positions.

At the age of 80, all City Rabbis are required to retire.

In the recent past, there was, in practice, no upper age limit and indeed, State funded city/town rabbis were considered life-long positions.

In Rabbi Riskin's case, the committee did not immediately grant him a five year extension, rather they have reportedly invited Rabbi Riskin in for a meeting.

This has cooked up a storm, with widespread media coverage. National religious rabbis & lay leaders have voiced strong criticism of the Rabbinate and support for Rabbi Riskin.

It has become a political issue - with this case highlighted as an irresponsible act of a chareidi-dominated Rabbinate, against a successful and well respected rabbi who is on the liberal side of orthodox Judaism in Israel.

I think this case actually highlights the mandatory retirement issue, particularly as it relates to State funded positions.

The mandatory retirement age in Israel is 67.

This law protects the employer from being lumbered with elderly and no-longer capable employees (sacking them, on the basis of age, would otherwise expose the employer to being sued for age discrimination), and protects elderly and vulnerable employees from being stuck in unsuitable employment positions and potentially being exploited.

When there is mutual agreement between the employee and employer, they can voluntarily remain employed after 67.

When it comes to the State, elected leaders (such as MKs) are not required to retire due to age (eg Shimon Peres was 90 while President) and judges are not required to retire until 70.

The only other exception I am aware of, is State funded rabbis, who in practice will continue in their positions until 80.

This is not good for rabbis - who need a dignified exit strategy from their positions at a reasonable age.

It is not good for the public, who can be ill-served by rabbis as public servants, who are 'beyond it', both functionally and in their ability to keep up with a fast-changing world.

And it is not good for the rabbinical profession - which has a limited number of State funded positions, which should be opened up to make room for younger rabbis.

I personally think Rabbi Riskin is charismatic, wise and successful rabbinical leader, who has achieved miracles in building up Efrat. He has also influenced and educated thousands of students in his various institutions. B'H he is still active at 75!

However, I do think he and all his colleagues need to be seen into dignified retirement, at least from State funded positions, at the standard age of 67. At a push, like judges, at 70.

75 year old Rabbi Riskin should be released, along with his elderly peers, to enjoy his children, grandchildren and to gracefully become the grandfather, rather than father, of Efrat.

Friday, 22 May 2015

"Uncle" Rabbi Moshe Levinger z"l

Rabbi Moshe Levinger died  this past week and was buried in the old cemetery of Hebron.

I had the privileged of hosting Rabbi Levinger about ten years ago in my home. He was visiting Ramat Beit Shemesh for Shabbat and, due to my wife Julie being a relative (through my mother in law, Shula Kestenbaum z"l), we were selected to host the rabbi.

That shabbat we discussed with Rabbi Levinger the then-topical issue of putting fences around settlements, in order to reduce the risk of terrorists infiltrating and murdering residents (as happened, for example, in Yitzhar, which did not have a fence).

Rabbi Levinger said he is against such fences, as these actually endanger residents, by giving Arabs the intrinsic message that the Jews are afraid, and therefore weak and vulnerable to attack.

He pointed out that he walks around Hebron unprotected - and this is actually the safest way. The local (very hostile) Arabs don't mess with him.

That approach reminds me of Moshe Feiglin's tactic during the intifada.

Israeli drivers were routinely attacked during that period traveling through Arab villages, and so had resorted to only traveling in groups and under military escort.

Feiglin felt this was counterproductive, and decided to drive alone through a neighboring militant Arab village, with a large Israeli flag waving from his vehicle, and his windows wound down.

The Arabs left him alone, and then many other Israelis adopted the same tactic. Indeed, thus was invented the plastic car-mounted Israeli flags, now ubiquitous as a part of the Independence Day period celebrations.

Rabbi Levinger's gutsy, many would say heroic, approach to settling the West Bank gave him his place in Israel's history.

Regularly breaking the laws, and intuition/common sense, Rabbi Levinger was a founder of Gush Emunim, established the Jewish community in Hebron where he lived, and also founded the town of Kireat Arba, adjoining Hebron. These were accomplishments of historical proportion.

Rabbi Levinger's policies regularly put him on a collision course with the Government, police, army, and courts. He served time in prison on two occasions, both involving violence against Arab civilians.

Rabbi Levinger did not deny the charges. Far from it, he said he was proud of his actions and reportedly boasted that "next time I shoot, I will make sure not to miss".

In order to move the center, it has often been necessary to have radicals break through accepted rules, boundaries and fences. Moderates rarely make history.

There is a thin and blurry line between fanaticism and heroism.

Rabbi Levinger was, by all accounts, a mixture of both.