A Haaretz Antidote

The media inside Israel is, generally, left wing. Haaretz is the worst (by far) from my perspective, but the collective vision they have is so negative, that they all share the blame for the way Israel is viewed by the foreign press. Fortunately there are exceptions. And while Israel HaYom is far too close to Bibi for my liking, it is often on target with its critique of the other media. This, for example, is absolutely right:

“In the reality in which we live, a senior officer (major general) who compares processes taking place here to the Germans in the 1930s is a man of values, but an officer who invites his soldiers to pray before an action in Gaza? That’s darker, even reminiscent of Iran. It’s a shame that Albert Einstein isn’t here to test the theory of moral relativism in our country. Perhaps we should recall Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s command prior to the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, when he called on all Allied soldiers to “beseech the blessing of Almighty God” before the operation?”

Of course, the current Lieberman and Herzog adventures in the cabinet, or out of the cabinet, have inspired some shrieking commentary. The Israel Hayom piece is a good antidote to the poison put out by Haaretz and others, and skewers their howls of angry commentary fairly easily.

Do read the whole thing, here.


Big Brother, or Big Bother?

This Mashable piece about the use of face recognition software at a music festival was new to me:

Big Festival Brother? What summer music festivals are doing with your personal data

It’s May and the sun is finally out after a long British winter. For many that means one thing: festival season.

It’s a good occasion to disconnect from technology, go off the grid and enjoy a few days of carefree excitement. Or not.

Along with booze, music and mud — a lot of mud — British festivals may have another feature: mass surveillance.

Last year, Leicestershire police scanned the faces of 90,000 festival-goers at Download Festival, checking them against a list of wanted criminals across the country. It was the first time anywhere in the UK that facial recognition technology — NeoFace — was used at a public outdoor event.

Privacy campaigners — and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy — expressed their fury at authorities after they casually mentioned the use of the surveillance project on Police Oracle, a police news and information website. Police didn’t use any other method to warn festival-goers about the controversial initiative.

The article then goes on a wayward route – I’m not sure where to – as it skates over the topics of surveillance, privacy, and the use of personal data. However, it is this “controversial initiative” that is the cornerstone, and I think it’s badly directed.

Let’s examine what appears to have happened. The police used software that would help them find wanted criminals. What is wrong with that? Would there have been less protest if there had been police stationed at every entrance doing a personal check of the incoming faces? There was no intrusion into privacy. It was, after all, for the benefit of society. How many would complain if, for example, a rapist or a murderer committed more crimes because the police failed to arrest him when he turned up to see his favorite rock band? And as for giving a warning… “Calling all criminals. Please note that if you go to this festival, you might be recognized and arrested.” Ahem.

Sure, there are issues about the use of personal data. For example, if the police used these records to create profiles about innocent civilians, and kept these records for no good reason, that would be an abuse of power. But what if they were profiling potential terrorists? Why wouldn’t we want the police to be able to do that?

The irony is that private companies (not least Google) take a whole lot more intrusive steps into our private lives. To be fair, the article does mention the affect of apps, and the potential abuses. But were I a privacy campaigner, I think I would want to avoid creating a problem for the police in protecting society in the circumstances as described. As far as I am concerned, they can use face recognition on me anytime. I have nothing to hide.


Social experiment surprise

Or not, as the case may be.

From AntiSemitismWatch:

How is this for a social experiment? Last week, some students at University of Chicago proposed a resolution to the College Council to divest from Chinese weapons manufacturers, in protest of China’s severe human rights abuses and its long-standing occupation of Tibet.

Members of the council were quick to condemn the resolution, and for good reason. The members noted it was political, and disrespectful to Chinese students. Other members noted that Chinese students should be given time to respond to the presenters with a counter-presentation. One representative even suggested that the College Council issue an apology to Chinese students for even considering the resolution. The resolution was tabled indefinitely.

Can you see what’s coming?

Curiously, when a few weeks earlier the same College Council passed a nearly identical resolution condemning Israel, no one suggested an apology. These same representatives argued why it was their moral imperative to condemn Israel. They were determined to push this through at all costs, and despite requests, they didn’t even offer the other side an opportunity to present.

The details are worth reading (see here) for they clearly illustrate the inbuilt bias being expressed towards Israel and Jews. Maybe it’s shocking. Maybe it’s expected. But for sure, it is at the core of BDS.


A goodly state of war?

At the Yom HaAtzmaut barbecue last week, one of the other guests – a native Israeli – introduced himself, and after a bit of chat asked Susan and me what we thought of Israel. Before we could reply, he said something like:

“You should know, as far as I am concerned, Israel is paradise.”

There then followed a light hearted conversation about Israel as paradise, and the minor blots we might protest about.

Over Shabbat, I was discussing this amusing encounter with somebody who agreed with the description of Israel as paradise. But there was a kicker: according to this person,  Israel is in such a good state, at least partly because of the wars, because of us being constantly in a state of war (or constantly in a state that is not peace), and because of the army.

Without the wars, so the reasoning goes, people wouldn’t support the need for the army to exist, and to be so well funded.

Without a well funded army, we wouldn’t have those amazing breeding grounds for cyber warriors, and security expertise.

Without the army, we wouldn’t get all that entrepreneurial spirit, and “can do” attitude.

And so on.

It’s an interesting perspective.

If it’s right, does it mean there would be no such thing as a peace dividend?


The bittersweet taste of Yom HaAtzmaut


Over the last few weeks, as always around this time of year, more and more Israeli flags start to appear. You see them flying from car windows, car mirrors, apartment blocks, houses, office buildings, factories, restaurants, shops, garages, traffic lights, street lights, motorway bridges, and roundabouts. Everything seems focused on Yom HaAtzmaut, and the celebration of the foundation of the state.

However, before we get there, we have to pass through the preceding 24 hours of Yom HaZikaron, the day when Israel remembers those who have fallen in the wars.

It’s not as if Yom HaZikaron is a surprise – everyone knows it’s coming – but it’s not signaled in advance. It’s almost as if we can only bear the one day of sadness and mourning. That is understandable. But every year, as we make the switch from the end of Yom HaZikaron, to the immediately following start of Yom HaAtzmaut, as we make the switch from somber memorial to sweet celebration, there’s an underlying bittersweet sensation drifting around.

We may not like to stop mourning, as perhaps we fear it means we are forgetting the fallen, even if only for a short while.  Indeed, some may be unable to stop mourning, and who can blame them?

In previous years, when I have been at a Yom HaZikaron ceremony, I have found the whole atmosphere to be an emotional experience. I never fail to be touched by the stories of the fallen and their sacrifice, of tales told by still grieving family, now years, if not decades, after their loss. There’s a sense of shame, of guilt that I am alive, free to enjoy life in Israel because of that sacrifice. I feel responsible for each family’s grief, even though I know that’s ridiculous. It’s my guilty conscience in overdrive. And I only gradually shake off that mix of feelings during the course of Yom HaAtzmaut. That’s part of what makes it bittersweet to me. That sensation underlines how important it is to appreciate what we have – in the face of ongoing hostility and hatred – and to be thankful.

Yom HaZikaron starts tonight.



Is it any wonder Bibi doesn’t trust Obama?

From the Times of Israel:

“A senior official in the Obama administration acknowledged that the background to nuclear talks with Iran was misrepresented in order to sell the impression of a more moderate Iranian regime and thus gain greater American public support for an agreement.”

Obama’s ‘misrepresentation’ went further than that.

It appears that the administration were concerned Israel might launch a military attack. So, Israel was told that the US would take such action rather than have Iran acquire nuclear weapons. With that assurance, Israel filed its attack plans. And now? There is no way the US will take military action against Iran, unless the Ayatollahs are stupid or reckless enough to attack the US directly.

It appears that Obama’s world view remains childishly optimistic, naive, and is infused with a hippy like belief that war is to be avoided at all costs. Israel has extensive experience that proves sometimes there is no option but to fight. And Obama’s weakness in the face of the Iranian regime may well bear poison fruit for years to come.

Is it any wonder Bibi doesn’t trust Obama? Maybe Obama’s dislike of Bibi is because the Israeli leader won’t keep quiet about the US leader’s ‘misrepresentations.’

Read the whole piece, here.


The curse of Airbnb

According to Israel Hotels Association (IHA) CEO Noaz Bar-Nir:

“There are as many as 20,000 apartments rented to tourists today in Israel – and that number is growing. In 2012, there were only 900 such apartments…”

That’s some increase. And it’s the hotels that are suffering, which is why they are pressing for such activity to be made illegal. This follows the approach of the Berlin municipality which banned short term rentals of vacation apartments. Their motivation was that rents in the German capital had soared by 56%. The fine for breaking the law is a whopping €100,000.

But it’s not only hotels that are affected. Bar-Nir wrote to Minister of Construction and Housing Yoav Galant and Ministry of Finance Budget Department director Amir Levi, as follows:

“When will you understand that this phenomenon is growing in Israel, that it is shrinking the available supply of housing, and thus hurting your plan to increase the supply, while also driving up prices? And how much revenue is lost to the economy because all of this is takes place in the shadow economy?”

Not only does Airbnb contribute to the ridiculously high prices of residential property, but it appears to be swelling the black economy. Israelis know there is such an economy, and it is largely untouched by the tax authorities as they do not appear to have the resources to do much about it. Since the government seems to be losing out from the present situation, perhaps that will be the decisive factor in persuading them to act and ban short term rentals of vacation apartments. It will harm those who engaged in such activities well before Airbnb, so I doubt a ban or other legislation will happen without further vigorous and heated debate.

Read the Globes piece, here.


Headline of the week

From the Jerusalem Post:

Haredim riot over arrest of pub-going, draft-dodging yeshiva student

The back story, as to how the yeshiva student was arrested, is even more amusing.

The violent demonstrations started on Thursday after a haredi yeshiva student from Elad was arrested in Eilat.

The student and three of his friends had been visiting the Crazy Elephant night club and then hailed a cab to take them to the main promenade where they wanted to find a pub.

According to the police, the group of four yeshiva students underpaid for their cab ride by NIS 5 and the cab driver, who was unhappy with their behavior, reported them to the police.

The police were able to identify and locate the youths, and upon detaining them discovered that one of them had not reported to the IDF for the preliminary drafting process.

According to the police report, none of the yeshiva students was wearing any religious items such as yarmulkes or tzitzit; they were dressed like secular young men on a night out.

In an interview with news website Haredim 10, the cab driver explained that it was the rude behavior of the four young men, which included them throwing an NIS 20 bill at him, which led him to make the complaint to the police.

Ha! It rather looks like Divine Justice to me. If the silly buggers hadn’t misbehaved, none of this would have happened. Perhaps the haredim might stop to ponder on that.


Corbyn only has himself to blame

It’s this kind of behavior, from the man at the top, seen as acceptable within the Labour party, that has seen them play host – welcome host – to bigots and haters. Given how endemic antisemitism appears to be within the Muslim community, it’s not easy to see a durable solution for those who might actually want to fix the problem.

Oh, and it’s possible it might get worse. Labour have put a pyromaniac in charge of putting out the fires.


Working does not contradict Torah

I wasn’t online much during the Pesach week, so I am only now catching up on the Globes piece published on 27th April 2016 about ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav.

ZAKA is a haredi organization that “rescues, identifies, and traces Jewish disaster victims in Israel and all over the world.” Zahav is a former anti-Zionist militant, which adds somewhat to the message conveyed in the interview, and to the sense of selflessness and of pure charity given by the man and his helpers.

Zahav was asked about the recent incident of an 81 year-old female passenger on a plane, asked to switch seats because a haredi man refused to sit next to her. Here’s his very quotable response:

“Things are so crazy here that everyone thinks how to be more strictly observant, how to show that he’s stricter… I don’t believe in all this nonsense. I’m rational. I don’t believe cult-like religious leaders and other foolishness. They taught us respect that the worst thing you can do is humiliate someone in public. It’s better to be thrown into the furnace than to humiliate your fellow man. There are stories about Rabbi Auerbach, one of the greatest religious authorities, when he would travel on a bus and a woman sat next to him. He didn’t get up. He said that respecting a person, respecting your fellow human being, took precedence over everything. God will forgo the respect due him if the purpose is to honor your fellow human being. To injure a woman, and for what? That’s not cleanliness, holiness, duty, or a commandment. It’s lack of respect for your fellow human being. Yes, there’s a non-ending argument among haredi Jews. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was asked once if it was permitted to extend a hand back to a woman who puts her hand out to you. He ruled that it was permissible. That’s the way of Judaism. Respect takes precedence over Torah; that’s no slogan or cliche.”

I certainly learned that respect was more important than personal pride. And his comments ring all too true with me. Unfortunately, there are too many religious extremists who seem to have learned differently. Of course they are wrong, but…

As for the whole working or studying situation, Zahav says this:

“There’s something strange here that happens only in Israel. People work in all Jewish communities. The most extreme Jews in the US, the Satmar Hasidic Jews, work. All of them. The lay leader of the community, the most highly respected man, who sits next to the Satmar rabbinical leader on Sabbath eve, wears blue overalls and works in a printing firm during the week, and then wears all the Hasidic trimmings on the Sabbath. Only here in Israel do haredim not work. Why? They say that after the Holocaust, after the world of Torah was destroyed, the rabbis were unwilling to listen to anything before the world of Torah was rebuilt. Even if that were true then, however, it looks to me like an excuse later. In any case, the state of Israel owes a great debt to my dear friend, (former Minister of Finance and MK) Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid). He broke the direct connection between the yeshiva and the labor market. Before, anyone who left the yeshiva was automatically drafted into the army, but not now. The haredim have realized this, and one day, they will praise him. The result is that more and more haredi men are going to work. I don’t understand how it can be otherwise.”

Quite an eye opener. You will see that he, at least, recognizes the need for work, and the benefit of Lapid‘s policies which, nevertheless, were so denounced and hated by the haredi establishment.

In summary, Zahav is a real mensch, doing unbelievable work of which I suspect the Globes piece (which you can read here) only gives a tiny hint. How he went from anti-Zionist to national hero is especially poignant.

We are fortunate there are people like him in Israel.