Sunday, October 23, 2016

Politics – October 2016 – In Memory of Shimon Peres, one of Israel’s forefathers

Support is sought to facilitate the work of the Middle East Study Group. Information at

Greatness is measured by what one does for others not by what one does for oneself

Why only women need to hide behind the veil? Why not men too? After all, if women are as weak as it is believed, they might be tempted as well.

Trump has the charm of a bull in Pamplona.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Shimon Peres (1923-2016) - Some Personal Reflections
Obama-Netanyahu Meeting
Israel and Its Neighbours
Antonio Guterres
A Milestone in the History of the UN
Britain has suspended aid payments to the Palestinian Authority
Oxford University
A Word about Trump
Demos Project
A Word about Tattoos
Farewell Giuliana
Visit to Israel
New Book - Privacy Laws Around the World
Movie - Riphagen
Monthly Poems

Light Side

Shimon Peres (1923-2016) - Some Personal Reflections

Friday, September 30, 2016, was a sad day, for me and for many others in Israel and the world at large. The State of Israel had buried its last forefather: Shimon Peres.

I am not going to repeat the known history of Peres, documented in many books and articles. Instead, I wish to reflect on my acquaintance with Shimon. My story is small, personal story. I assume that many people who came to know and work with Peres probably have similar experiences.
For many years, the Peres family lived opposite my home in the north of Tel Aviv. I used to see Shimon and Sonia on the street and in the local shops. Both were always gracious and respectful. I used to play with their son Chemi.

In 1981, I joined the Labour Party. At that time, if you wanted to make an impact you had to join one of two camps: Rabin or Peres. For me, this was an easy choice. Peres was warm and forthcoming whereas Rabin was shy and remote. I began to work for Shimon Peres. I joined an inner circle of activists who would meet on Fridays to plan next week, sometimes next month, activities. I saw how Peres worked, his mode of operation, what ticked him, his priorities and goals.

Shimon Peres was the second most important politician in the history of Israel; second only to Israel's George Washington, David Ben-Gurion. I think Peres, Ben-Gurion's disciple, would accept this.

While Ben-Gurion encapsulated Israel from 1948 to the 1970s to the extent that you can tell the history of Israel during those years through the towering figure of Ben-Gurion, one may argue that Peres encapsulated Israel from 1948 until now. The history of Israel, and the history of Peres, are intertwined.

Working for Peres was fascinating. It was an eye-opener for the studying of politics, and what it takes to be successful in politics. I was fortunate to have Shimon as my teacher. I have met many politicians. Some of them became friends. I never met anyone with the zeal for politics that Shimon had. He taught me lessons that made lasting impressions on me.

Peres manifested love for Israel, sense of social justice, love for books, passion for poetry, understanding that politics is a tool to bring about change and to do good, and that peace should be Israel’s strategy, vital to ensure Israel’s survival in a difficult and hostile region. Peace will remain an unfulfilled desire as long as leaders perceive peace as tactics rather than strategy.

Peres was creative, thoughtful, shrewd, workaholic, passionate, and a most remarkable human being. He was one of the cleverest persons I have ever met, inside and outside the political circles. His innermost qualities enabled him to be at ease with presidents and kings, academics and celebrities. His life was so rich that could easily be the lives of five different human beings. What he did in one life time is hard to fathom.  Peres was truly extraordinary.
Another person in Shimon’s circle of activists was a young lady by the name Zaavit Skladman. She was the Chairperson of Manof, the National Young Labour Movement in Israel. Manof was both acronym and a meaningful title, as it means crane in Hebrew. Shimon always believed that the future is with the younger generations thus he took great interest in the Manof activities. Her position allowed her a privileged access to Peres. In 1985, Zaavit and I got married and Prime Minister Peres was supposed to be our guest of honour. Our wedding was penciled in his diary. However, on that evening (22 January) the government struck an important deal with the Histadrut and the heads of Israel economy (Iskat HaChavila) that had shaped Israeli economy for many years to come. The meeting was long, one of the longest in the history of governmental meetings. It stretched into the night and early morning of the following day. Peres, who chaired that meeting, still was thoughtful to send us a wire during the evening apologizing for not being able to come.

Out of my deep appreciation to Shimon, I retained all the personal letters he had sent me. After his death, I re-read them. Here I wish to share with you segments from some letters that he had written to me. Shimon’s words very much reflect the man, his ideas and his values.

On 12 September 1993, during the days of the Oslo jubilation, Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres wrote: “I believe that the first step was made, and now we have ahead of us much work on the way to fulfil the much-sought after peace”.
On 4 April 1994, he expressed “special gratitude” for a copy of my poetry book and reflected on my thesis in The Boundaries of Liberty and Tolerance: The Struggle Against Kahanism in Israel that democracies must present boundaries to liberty and tolerance; otherwise they might succumb to what I call “The Democratic Catch”. Peres wrote: “… the government decided to outlaw the ‘Kach’ movement and it will continue to act strongly against those who wish to undermine Israeli democracy. “Having said that”, Peres maintained, “mere legal decisions will not be useful if we will not act also in the education sphere. I hope we all will join forces”. On 11 January 1995 he wrote to me again to say how much he enjoyed reading the book. On 31 December 1995 Prime Minister Peres wrote another letter, saying that “The precondition to internal reconciliation is the agreement that the law and the democratic rules of the game are obligatory and that respecting them should be unqualified”. This letter Peres wrote after Rabin’s assassination on 4 November 1995.

In 1994, Peres won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Zaavit and I sent him warm letter of congratulation to which Shimon responded at length. After thanking us for our warm words which “strengthened my belief and actions”, Shimon spoke of vision of a new Middle East and the “building of a new region of peace and prosperity for the benefit of all people in the region”. The Oslo Accord, wrote Peres, paved the way to peace with Jordan and opened new horizons to an all-encompassing peace in the Middle East. “Israeli delegations visited Tunis, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar. Israeli mission was opened in Morocco and soon one will open in Tunis. The gulf states including Saudi Arabia ceased the Arab boycott of Israel”. The road is long and difficult as the Hamas terror is aimed to destroy the peace process but “it will fail as did all previous violent attempts. They all succumb to the will to live of all nations”. Shimon concluded his letter by thanking us for our belief in his way.

In 1997, I organised an international conference in memory of Yitzhak Rabin. Guests arrived from all around the world. The main speakers of the opening night were Mrs Lea Rabin and Shimon Peres.  I was delighted to share the stage with both of them. (In 2000, I published a collection of essays titled Liberal Democracy and the Limits of Tolerance: Essays in Honor and Memory of Yitzhak Rabin.)

In 2005, Peres decided to leave the Labour Party and to join Ariel Sharon’s party, Kadima. On 2 December 2005, Shimon wrote: “Indeed, it was difficult to decide to leave the party in which I worked for tens of years”. But what is important is the end result. “I support Ariel Sharon as the person who will succeed in advancing peace in accordance with my vision and way”.

In 2006, Ehud Olmert convened a curious government that was comprised of Kadima, Labour, the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, Gil (the Pensioners Party), and… Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu. Peres was appointed to serve as Deputy Prime Minister but he was not happy with the political constraints. On 17 May 2006, Shimon wrote: “The election results did not make it possible to comprise the government we wished for and to immediately embark on the way we pledged our electorate. But I hope that this government will know how to overcome the difficulties that lie ahead”. Shimon voiced his hope that “we will succeed to speak with the moderate part of the Palestinian people, conclude the disengagement plan, support disadvantaged populations and repair social ills”.

In 2008, from the President Office, Shimon wrote about his recent visit to England. He had a somewhat difficult meeting with students at Oxford. On 7 December 2008, the undeterred, eternal optimist Shimon wrote: “The meeting with the Oxford students was loaded but we should not surrender to militancy. We will continue to voice Israel’s stance from each and every platform”.

On 25 November 2012, President Peres wrote to thank Ori Arbel-Ganz, Asa Kasher and me for assembling “a most comprehensive and impressive volume” that will promote transparency, accountability and responsibility in Israel”. This book is titled Public Responsibility in Israel. Interestingly, Peres said that he had found special interest in the articles concerning social responsibility of non-governmental actors. He wrote: “At the time when power of individuals can be greater than that of governments, social and environmental challenges do not stop at the threshold of governments alone. Without citizens’ social responsibility, without sincere public obligation, without voluntariness based on good will rather than laws, we will find it difficult to bring sustained development and create a vital environment, lighted and green for future generations”.

Peres dedicated his life to the state of Israel. He cared deeply about its people and its security. Since the early 1990s, he was a relentless fighter for peace. Among all Israeli leaders, no one worked as hard as Shimon Peres to bring about peace. This was his dream, one of many dreams that Simon had; but unlike many of his dreams, this one Shimon was unable to materialise, despite the best of efforts.

Dear Shimon Peres: May your soul rest in eternal peace. Your memory will live forever.

Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

On 21 September, 2016, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met, possibly for the final time during Obama's tenure, in New York City. Netanyahu thanked Obama for the recent $38 billion memorandum of understanding between their two countries. Obama said the aid package would give Israel the ability to defend itself at a perilous time in the Middle East. The prime minister told Obama that Israel “will never give up” on seeking peace. He praised the president by saying, “Your voice, your influential voice, will be heard for many decades, and I know you’ll continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself and its right to thrive as a Jewish state.”
Obama called the bond between the U.S. and Israel “unbreakable” and continued, “It is based on common values, family ties, a recognition that a Jewish state of Israel is one of our most important allies and a guiding principle throughout my presidency. One that I’ve expressed often to the prime minister is that it is important for America’s national security to ensure that we have a safe and secure Israel, one that can defend itself.”
President Obama also emphasized the need for a “secure” Israel to exist “alongside a Palestinian state.” Senior American officials reported that President Obama raised deep concerns about the settlements as an obstacle to a two-state solution and Netanyahu as always pushed back. I do not think the two leaders will miss each other. Privately, Netanyahu expresses sigh of relief seeing the Obama administration ending its long eight-year term in office.


Israel and Its Neighbours

In several blogs, I spoke of Israel’s diplomatic success with its neighbouring countries and afar. Common national security and economic interests drive cooperation. Recently I met with a senior Jordanian official who spoke of his country’s warm relations with Israel. The two countries have shared business, economy and security concerns that yield tightening cooperation. The Jordanian also spoke of the need to drive the peace process with the Palestinians forward and he voiced concerns about Jews mounting the Haram al Shariff, undermining the status quo and contravening agreements with the Hashemite Kingdom.

In September 2016, Israel and Jordan signed an energy deal according to which Israel will be supplying Jordan's National Electric Power Company Ltd. (NEPCO) with a gross quantity of 45 billion cubic meters of gas, or 8.5 million cubic meters daily, over a 15-year period.  Houston-based Noble Energy – which holds the largest share in the Leviathan natural gas field located in the Mediterranean Sea – will facilitate the gas sales.

Israel and Egypt have common interests to fight extremists in Egypt, Israel and in Gaza. Military ties are strengthening as they fight against common enemies.

Mutual security interests also drive an Israeli-Saudi d├ętente, particularly a shared fear of Shi’ite Iran. It is reported that Riyadh offered the Israeli government the use of its airspace to attack Iran as well as assistance with air-to-air refuelling for Israeli jets. Representatives from the two countries had held five secret meetings in 2015 to discuss managing the threat from Tehran. Last July a retired Saudi general led a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen on a trip to Israel for discussions with senior Israeli officials.

A new Israel-Greece-Cyprus economic and military alliance is emerging. Following the massive energy deal with Jordan, Israel is looking to lay a pipeline to Cyprus and Greece, so Israeli gas can be exported there and to other European countries, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water. Furthermore, the Greek and Israeli militaries hold extensive air and naval exercises together, and in 2015 Greece allowed the Israeli air force to conduct exercises over Crete. Earlier this year, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Netanyahu held talks in Israel, followed by a three-way summit between Netanyahu, Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades that concluded with the creation of a de-facto geopolitical bloc between the three states. Israel’s offshore natural gas bonanza provides another reason for its alliance with Greece and Cyprus. Since Israel possesses far more gas than it needs for its own economy, Netanyahu, Tsipras and Anastasiades discussed the possibility of building a pipeline from Israeli gas fields through Cyprus and Greece to supply Europe – something that would further cement this new three-way alliance.

Source: Josh Cohen, Commentary: Forget isolation. Israel’s diplomatic ties have never been better, Reuters, 22.9.2016,

Antonio Guterres

In January 2017, Antonio Guterres will take the helm as United Nation Secretary-General. Israeli officials voiced satisfaction with this appointment.

Guterres visited Israel in 1993 as secretary-general of the Portuguese Socialist Party. His tour included the Western Wall, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, and kibbutzim in the Galilee. Guterres established close relationships with former prime ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, both of whom visited him during their respective terms. Barak commented on the appointment, “I am sure he will be fair… His views are closer to those of [Israeli writer] Amos Oz than [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. His stances reflect those of the world. The world’s view of Israel is that it hopes to see a different Israel. If the government would act differently, it could change how Israel is seen”.

A Milestone in the History of the UN

Yom Kippur is the most important day of the year for Jewish people around the world. It is our Day of Atonement. This year, for the first time in UN history, no formal meetings were held at its headquarters in New York on Wednesday, October 12, out of respect for Yom Kippur. I hope this decision will set an example for other international institutions.

Britain has suspended aid payments to the Palestinian Authority

International Development Secretary Priti Patel has ordered a freeze pending an investigation. For years, Israel has claimed that taxpayers money is handed to terrorists.
Earlier this summer some MPs demanded action after revelations that one Hamas master bomber was alleged to have been given £100,000 by the PLO. Other ‘salaries’ are said to have gone to families of suicide bombers and teenagers attacking Israel.

The decision by the Department for International Development means £25 million in cash is being withheld this year – a third of the total aid sent to Palestine. The majority goes to charities in the region.

A source said: “We are not stopping for the Palestinian Authority overall, just delaying it to a date when we know our money won’t be going to people who do nothing in return for it.”
Last July, Yigal Carmon, president and founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), told Congress that in order to mislead donor countries who were pressuring the PA to stop rewarding terrorism, the PA transferred the role of distribution of money in 2014 from a ministry in the PA to a commission in the PLO. He added that the PA is still the source of the funding, and that the official overseeing the payments remains the same.

According to Israeli sources, in 2012, foreign aid amounted to about a quarter of the PA’s budget.

Source: Steve Hawkes, “TAXPAYER FUNDED TERRORISTS. Britain suspends millions of aid payments to Palestine amid claims cash is handed to terrorists”, The Sun (7 October 2016),

Oxford University

I was proud to read that my alma mater is ranked first in the world. I certainly think it is high up there.

Oxford ranked top university in the world,

A Word about Trump

I have been following elections campaigns in three countries for more than thirty years. I cannot recall anything similar to what we witness nowadays in the USA. This has largely to do with one of the candidates: Mr Donald Trump.

The more I know about Donald Trump, the less I want to know. Nothing would surprise me about that man. I never saw someone who is SO ill-equipped to become the leader of the free world.

Some years ago, Ivana Trump participated in the British Big Brother. While I have not seen any of the episodes myself, friends advise me that Ivana had interesting things to say about her former husband, things related to (mis)conduct and (mis)trust. I am surprised Ivana’s appearances have not been picked until now by the media.

Trump greatest achievement until now: forcing Jon Stewart out of retirement.

I hope this bad Trump wind pass away swiftly and that The Donald returns to do business, where he can manifest his ruthlessness and benefit from it. Frankly, he looks like someone who needs a long vacation. I suggest his beloved Mexico.

Demos Project

The University of Hull, UK, is pursuing a project on measuring the existence of global citizenship (called 'demos'). Citizenship here means an orientation to and identification with the global level in individuals worldwide. If you want to contribute to this project, please fill in this very short survey and distribute it in your channels. With many thanks in advance! Dr. C. Beyer, University of Hull, UK.

A Word about Tattoos

Witnessing the growing popularity of tattoos brings me to think that in a few years time witnesses to crime will be asked by the police: Did the suspect have any special characteristics, such as no visible tattoos?

Farewell Giuliana

One of my close friends in Hull, Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, has retired and returned home to Italy. Farewell Giuliana. Enjoy the new chapter in your life. Have much fun as you deserve. I will miss you.

Visit to Israel

Next month I am invited to a human rights conference in Jerusalem and will be happy to meet friends and colleagues.

New Book - Privacy Laws Around the World

You may download Privacy Laws Around the World to access common and disparate elements of the privacy laws from 61 countries. Crafted by Cynthia Rich of Morrison & Foerster LLP, the report includes expert analysis on privacy laws in Europe and Eurasia (non-EEA); East, Central and South Asia and the Pacific; the Western Hemisphere (Latin America, Caribbean and Canada); as well as Africa and the Near East.

Movie - Riphagen

Two major factors in the Nazi highly successful and effective extermination of European Jewry were the collaboration of local populations and money/greed. This film realistically depicts just how powerful and important these two factors were.

Careful: spoiler ahead.

The character is so ugly, so vicious, that I assumed he will meet his rightful destiny by the end of the film. I mean, the movie industry usually does not allow villains to get away with their evil deeds. That won’t be the correct message. To my surprise, the villain did walk away despite all that he did. Only at that very later point, when he killed his arch enemy in a sad twist of events, that I realized that this film is based on a true story. This ugly, vicious Riphagen did exist, and reality is not like Hollywood. Shame.

Riphagen was a cunning and manipulative individual who exploited human frailties and who exploited his limited power to a massive effect. Riphagen was able to trick everyone: Nazis, Jews, Dutch police, women, friends and foes. To the Nazis he presented himself as a loyal friend while he was stealing Jewish money without their knowledge. To the Jews, he was a trusted ally who has invaded the Nazi machinery and who was willing to risk his own life to help them because he understood that killing Jews was wrong. To the Dutch he was a master of deceit, an eternal pragmatist who cared first and foremost only about one thing: Riphagen. A man who sold his conscience and his friends for money.  

This is quite an effective film to understand a segment of the sad reality which the Nazis had created in Europe under their brutal occupation, a reality where the abnormal was normal, where humanity went to sleep, where the brutal and the heartless could have their way because this was the norm. It is a disturbing film that conveys the message; Never Again. We should see that such evil will never triumph again.


**** on Rafi’s scale.

Monthly Poems

A Calendar of Sonnets: October

The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way,
And spend whole seasons on a single day.
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear;
October, lavish, flaunts them far and near;
The summer charily her reds doth lay
Like jewels on her costliest array;
October, scornful, burns them on a bier.
The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign
Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew,
Oar empress wore, in Egypt's ancient line,
October, feasting 'neath her dome of blue,
Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through
Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine!

Helen Hunt Jackson

Our Life and Four Seasons

Birth years and spring days
how it all begins to liven up
we see the light of day
and spring begins to lighten our days

Summer days and younger years
days are longer and we are stronger
summer blooms with the warmth of the sun
we bloom with knowledge and love

The fall and mid age
Fall arrives and tries to hold on to the warmth
of the summer
we try to hold on, to our youth and knowledge
fall felt the heat of summer
and then starts to feel, the cold freeze of winter
Mid life seen the joy of youth and hopes
to see the old age of wisdom

Old age and winter
our steps are shorter
and so are the days
winter will end and so will we
to a new beginning and in time
to the holy land
forever and ever amen

Vasco M. Resendes

Light Side

Little Johnny is always being teased by the other neighborhood boys for being stupid. Their favorite joke is to offer Johnny his choice between a nickel and a dime Little Johnny always takes the nickel. One day, after Johnny takes the nickel, a neighbor takes him aside and says, "Johnny, those boys are making fun of you. Don't you know that a dime is worth more than a nickel, even though the nickel's bigger?" Johnny grins and says, "Well, if I took the dime, they'd stop doing it, and so far I've made $20!"

Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


My last communications are available on
Earlier posts at my home page:

People wishing to subscribe to this Monthly Newsletter are welcome to e-mail me at
Follow me on Twitter at @almagor35