Monday, October 26, 2009

Politics – October 2009

Either war is finished or we are.

Herman Wouk

War and Remembrance

Free Gilad Shalit. Veshavu banim legvulam.
Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Reflections on September Newsletter

More on the Goldstone Report

President Obama’s Speech at the UN

President Obama Won the Nobel Peace Prize

Appeal to President Obama

Gilad Shalit


Direct Budget Assistance to the Palestinian Authority

Wave of Violence Erupts in Northern Lebanon

Professor Ada Yonath Wins 2009 Chemistry Nobel

Israeli High Education
My New Article

New Books

Poem of the Month

Light Side

Reflections and Exchanges on September Newsletter

My September Newsletter has generated some responses. Many are private, where my readers do not wish to be identified. Many of them voiced dissent regarding the Goldstone Report. None, however, related to the content of the Report. In my September Newsletter I made extensive references to the Report, citing directly from it. The critique of the report, publicly and privately, speaks of what is not included in the Report, not about what is included. This is a real shame.
On October 21, 2009, Minister Dan Meridor said that Israel should investigate the conduct of Cast Lead. This is the first reasonable and sensible response made by an Israeli official to the Goldstone Report. There is no other way but to investigate, by Israel and others.
Here are two authorized responses and an exchange.
From Dr. Yoav Tenembaum, Tel Aviv

I have read your comments on the Goldstone Report. I understand your point of view. I am fully aware that you are genuinely concerned about its contents.
I haven't read the report, so I would be reluctant to advance a clear-cut, categorical opinion about it.
However, based on everything I have read regarding the Goldstone Report, I must admit I feel rather uncomfortable, to say the least.
To begin with, the entity that asked for it is hardly a reflection of the most enlightened nations in the international system, let alone the least biased regarding the war in Gaza. The bias is additionally suspect in the mission that was entrusted to it.
The emphasis on Israeli criminal intentions, let alone criminal acts, seems to border on the imaginative conjecture and conveys a distorted impression about the role of victim and aggressor in the conflict.
The critical references to the Hamas seem to be an exercise in virtual equilibrium as these are apparently hardly given prominent place, certainly not in comparison with Israel's intentions and acts. Indeed, the dual violation of international law by the Hamas, in attacking intentionally civilians and then hiding behind them, ought to have been a central focus of the Report. By hiding behind civilians, by mingling among them, the Hamas wanted either to get immunity or to be seen as the victim of any Israeli retaliation. International Law ought to adapt itself to this new kind of "warfare." In the meantime, the Goldstone Report should have stressed this matter in a critical vein much more so than it actually seems to have done.
The critical references to the Israeli legal system, known for its integrity and its independence, are peculiar, to say the least.
Again, I haven't read the Report itself. My aforementioned comments are based on the many articles I have read about it. It is worth noting that neither the United States nor many of the European countries have, so far, endorsed the Report. Further, none of the Israeli political parties, except for the Arab parties, in the Israeli Knesset, has advanced any positive comment as regards its contents. All of this is not a legal proof that the Report is incorrect, but it is certainly an indication of the many questions marks that it seems to raise among many well-intentioned people in many parliamentary democracies.

From Prof. Art Hobson, Arkansas

Hello my friend - I agree with you that Israel had to do something about the rocket firing from Gaza. But many Americans are getting fed up with Israel's continued "settlement" policy. Israel needs to stop all settlement expansion in the occupied territories immediately, and needs to begin pulling out of the settlements asap, regardless of negotiations. Obama needs to really pressure Netanyahu on this, by threatening to withhold aid and by actually withholding aid if the threat doesn't do the job. I've been arguing against the settlements for decades. They've been a major cause of the continued warfare, for decades. Cheers - Art

Exchange with Prof. John Kleinig, Canberra

Hi Rafi:

I always enjoy the Newsletter – find it very informative – and hope you and your family enjoy the holidays in the way you choose.
I must say, however, that I think you went completely overboard in your response to Neve Gordon’s Op-Ed, which was written in despair, not as a self-hating Israeli. I presume you read it (though the tone of your response suggests otherwise). And the boycott he was supporting – which I agree might not have been effective (people take too much heart from the South African boycotts) – was hardly a thoughtless one – it was a boycott of increasing intensity not an absolute one. Rivka Carmi’s letter was what one might have expected from a President concerned to mollify her donors and was hardly a ringing defense of academic freedom. Gideon Levy’s Haaretz Op-Ed said it best. As for Gordon, this was exactly a topic on which he has academic authority to speak. It was no abuse of academic freedom but an application of his scholarship to a current concern. This is what he writes about – you could hardly criticize him for being a public intellectual. Whatever the merits of his suggestion, that’s where the critique should have been directed – not the personal attack in which you among so many others have engaged. On many things you seen to be able to keep a fair perspective, but clearly this pushed a button somewhere – as your reference to Pappe suggests. I’d check that button.



My Response

Hi John

Thank you for your comment. It is good to hear from you.
I disagree with almost all that you wrote. I perceive Gordon as self-hater Israeli. His public activity shows that quite clearly, including his documented visit to the Mukataha, to strengthen the hands of poor Arafat. The article he wrote did not qualify his call for boycott. Only after the public reaction did Gordon qualify his initial statements aiming to soften them. I don't know why you think Gordon has "academic authority" to speak on this subject, and I hardly regard him as a "public intellectual". For me, public intellectuals are able to reflect on a range of topics, not just one. You are right that he pushed a button in me. Gordon has been exploiting his position for years in a way that I do not appreciate. I have strong sentiments against blanket calls to boycott Israel. I presume you would have the same feelings if an Australian Gordon, God forbid, would call to boycott you and the entire Australian academia because of Australia's ill-treatment of its indigenous people.
Best wishes


John’s Response

Hi Rafi:
First, I don’t think that you can say that “a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country's future” (from Gordon’s Op-Ed) is a “self hater Israeli.” That is such a demeaning description and because it is one thrown around by every right-wing bigot, I thought you might use something a bit more nuanced – like misguided? I agree that strengthening Arafat’s hand may have been unwise (and certainly, given what we know about Arafat) doomed as a way of advancing a two-state resolution of an occupation that has lasted 40 years (no brownie points for either side on that – not when you consider that prior to the first Intifada Arafat had little support among the broader Palestinian population: how many competent moderates were exiled by the Israeli government in the mid-80s?).
Second, what was qualified was the boycott he called for. These are the words he used in the original article, and he didn’t need to soften them: “In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organizations from all over the world formulated the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meant to pressure Israel in a "gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity." For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not.”
Third, I would have thought that a person who had published an academic book on Israel’s Occupation with the University of California Press, and chairs a department of politics in a respected university, whether you agree with what he says or not, is as qualified as you or Rivka Carmi to talk about responses to the current situation.
Fourth, we may disagree on what a public intellectual is, but I take it that it accommodates an academic who comes down from his ivory tower and communicates with a wider audience.
Fifth, to say that Gordon “exploits” his position suggests that he misuses it. He would misuse it if he used his authority as an academic political scientist to talk about biblical scholarship or microbiology. It is hardly exploitation of his position to talk about what, as an academic, he ordinarily investigates and publishes on in acknowledged academic venues. BGU hired him to teach in the politics department and respectable academic presses publish his work. What more do you want? Someone who agrees with you?
Sixth, I understand the sensitivity to boycotts – though, as you know, Israelis are always calling for people to boycott things they don’t like. And I happen to disagree with the British academics who tried to have Israelis boycotted. But it wasn’t a “blanket call” – it was a graduated one (I did take the trouble to download the boycott document).
Finally, as for Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous people, I have hardly anything good to say, and if I thought that a boycott would have improved their situation I would have supported it. Certainly Rudd’s belated apology was a huge relief to many Australians, and one can only hope that more will be done to repair or compensate for the horrible damage – it doesn’t come much short of slow genocide – that has been done. The difference between the current situation in both countries is that Indigenous lands are being gradually returned (too little, too late), but that the increasing push to populate the West Bank/Judea-Samaria and establish facts on the ground is making a two-state solution increasingly impossible. I say that without for a moment countenancing Palestinian terror – the Palestinians have been tools of corrupt and self-seeking leaders. However, I do think that the occupier has the primary responsibility for coming up with workable solutions, and the ever-expanding settlements with government-winking are not part of that.


My Response

Hi John
It is important to distinguish between facts and opinions. I refrained from publishing Gordon's words, as I wished not to give him further undeserved publicity. But you leave me no choice. The following are direct quotes from Gordon's controversial article:
"It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself... It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories. I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe... Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians -- my two boys included -- does not grow up in an apartheid regime”.
I highlighted the words “massive international pressure” that appear twice in the article. It is clear what he means. Boycotting only settlements’ products would not yield the “right” result for Gordon, as it won’t be massive.
This is not the first time Gordon is expressing such opinions. People wrote to me when he was a visiting professor at Michigan that he had made such and similar opinions to the joy of many of his anti-Israeli students and the displeasure of others. Gordon does not even pretend to keep a facade of academic objectivity. His lectures were manifestly biased against Israel. Like Pappe, Gordon transformed from an academic to an ideologue. He is using his academic credentials to advance an anti-Israeli political agenda. Pappe and Gordon are not the first peace-loving people that started as peace activists and impatience in face of slow political processes pushed them to anti-Israeli extremism. Unfortunately, they won’t be the last either.
Furthermore, I never said that Gordon is not qualified to express opinions. Everyone can express opinions. And Gordon is a scholar in the field so of course he can. What I resent is the fact that he is using his academic credentials to admonish Israel in sweeping generalizations, that he is using his Ben-Gurion affiliation to call for boycotting his, and other, Israeli institutions. This I perceive as hypocrisy. Why only Israeli bashers should deserve a platform to speak, and all other should be banned? What does Gordon say to his colleagues, whom he calls to ban? How can he serve as Chairperson of his department, a role that by definition means to serve his fellow scholars, and at the same time call to ban them, unless of course they conform to his views and then could join him in the boycott campaign?
I am relieved to know that both of us oppose boycotting the State of Israel. On this one, at least, we agree. This would not advance the solution we both, and also Gordon, believe is right: Two states, living in security side by side, free from terrorism and occupation.
Gmar Chatima tova to you and yours,

More on the Goldstone Report

Judge Goldstone is presently a Visiting Professor at Fordham University Law School. He commented on his Report to the Jewish respectable magazine, The Forward.

The report’s brief against Israel can be broken down into two broad categories. For the first, it uses satellite maps, eyewitness accounts and on-the-ground inspection to illustrate many instances in which large civilian infrastructure sites in Gaza were targeted and destroyed—food storage centers, water supply sources, agricultural land, sewage plants, as well as police stations and the legislative building in Gaza City. The only explanation for this kind of targeting, said Goldstone, is to collectively punish the population. Indeed, most legal experts agree that targeting such non-military sites is a war crime.

In its own published report on Cast Lead, issued in July, Israel openly acknowledges hitting these non-military targets, characterizing them instead as part of the “Hamas terrorist infrastructure,” and therefore legitimate objects for attack.

In the second category of charges, Goldstone asserts that the Israeli army, in a few detailed instances, specifically targeted unarmed, non-combatants on the ground in conditions where no fighting was taking place. If true, these would be serious breaches of Israel’s own “Law of Armed Conflict.” Unlike the destruction of infrastructure, Israel has repeatedly emphasized in public that under no circumstances does it condone shooting of civilians. While not disclosing details, the Israeli army has said that it is looking into 100 complaints related to the Gaza operation and is currently conducting 13 criminal investigations. In a section entitled, “Deliberate Attacks Against the Civilian Population,” Goldstone’s report examines 11 incidents, including the al-Samouni family deaths and the strike against the al-Maqadmah mosque in Jabaliyah. Both have also been cited repeatedly by Goldstone in his public comments as particularly egregious examples of what he termed Israel’s criminal conduct during the war.

Israel officials condemns this part of the Report, perceiving it as a kind of blood libel, contesting not only Goldstone’s legal conclusions about what happened, but also that the events in question happened at all. Goldstone maintains that the burden is on Israel to counter these findings through its own probe. “If I was advising Israel, I would say have open investigations,” he said. “In that way, you can put an end to this. It’s in the interest of all the people of Israel that if any of our allegations are established and if they’re criminal, there should be prosecutions. And if they’re false, that should be established. And I wouldn’t consider it in any way embarrassing if many of the allegations turn out to be disproved.”

Goldstone rejected the credibility of the army’s secret investigation of itself. He noted that none of the Palestinian witnesses he had met reported having been contacted by the army to hear their account. Instead, he offered the example of the Israeli investigation into the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, commissioned by Menachem Begin, as a model to emulate.


President Obama’s Speech at the UN

September 23rd, 2009 – President Obama made an important speech at the UN. I endorse each and every word. Priceless time was wasted under Bush’s “friendly” administration that hugged us so tightly that we forgot what is truly needed to secure the region and advance Israel’s aspirations to become a normal country, free of terrorism and war. Here is what Obama said, without any filters of wishful thinkers of any persuasion:

I will also continue to seek a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world. Yesterday, I had a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. We have made some progress. Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians. As a result of these efforts by both sides, the economy in the West Bank has begun to grow. But more progress is needed. We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

The time has come to re-launch negotiations – without preconditions – that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians; borders, refugees and Jerusalem. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security – a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people. As we pursue this goal, we will also pursue peace between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and a broader peace between Israel and its many neighbors. In pursuit of that goal, we will develop regional initiatives with multilateral participation, alongside bilateral negotiations.

I am not naïve. I know this will be difficult. But all of us must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip-service. To break the old patterns – to break the cycle of insecurity and despair – all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. And nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security.

We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It is paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the night. It is paid by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own. These are God's children. And after all of the politics and all of the posturing, this is about the right of every human being to live with dignity and security. That is a lesson embedded in the three great faiths that call one small slice of Earth the Holy Land. And that is why – even though there will be setbacks, and false starts, and tough days – I will not waiver in my pursuit of peace.

These are solid, true and wise words. It is time to do. Enough with empty words, meaningless statements, and stalling for time. We all, Palestinians and Israelis, should embrace the Obama vision. Time will tell when this will happen.

Because of such speeches, the new spirit and direction in American foreign policy, the inspiration, the concern, the good will, the drive, the hope that Obama conveys for his country and the world at large, on October 9, 2009 Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Obama Won the Nobel Peace Prize

The five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee explained that awarding Obama the peace prize could be seen as an early vote of confidence intended to build global support for the policies of his young administration.

They lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama's calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease U.S. conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen its role in combating climate change.

"Some people say — and I understand it — 'Isn't it premature? Too early?' Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now," said Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. "It is now that we have the opportunity to respond — all of us."

Jagland said the committee whittled down a record pool of 205 nominations and had "several candidates until the last minute," but it became more obvious that "we couldn't get around these deep changes that are taking place" under Obama.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984, said the decision showed that great things are expected from Obama and "wonderful recognition" of his effort to reach out to the Arab world after years of hostility. "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope," Tutu said.

Aagot Valle, a lawmaker for the Socialist Left party who joined the Nobel committee this year, said she hoped the selection would be viewed as "support and a commitment for Obama."

Obama is the third sitting U.S. president to win the award: President Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 and President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize in 1919.

In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."


Appeal to President Obama

Many Israelis travel to the USA each and every year. Israelis love the USA. We like to travel and explore its beautiful landscape. We like to do business with Americans. We go to study in its universities. We participate in conferences and professional meetings. We find it staggering that our closest ally demands of us to obtain visas for this purpose. Anyone who did not see the long queues at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv did not see what a real, agonizing queue is like.

President Obama: With one order you could boost the relationship between the two countries and better the atmosphere between your administration and Israelis as you push hard for concrete steps to bring peace to the region. Please order to make the visa requirement null and void. The USA would continue to be strong without the money the visa generates. It would save you some manpower and bureaucracy, and it would be a HUGE relief for Israel. Many countries in Europe lifted the visa requirement. Japan modified it. It is now your turn as part of the new mode, the new hopes, that you bring. Anyone who has ever experienced the queue will be eternally grateful and appreciative.

Gilad Shalit

On October 2, 2009, after 1,195 days in captivity, the Shalit family received a sign of life from their son Gilad. In a short video clip of less than 3 minutes long, Gilad is shown reading a prepared note and holding a local Gaza newspaper. In return, Israel released twenty female prisoners and allowed them to unite with their families in Palestine.

All of Israel watched and re-watched the video, after the family had authorized the video release. The entire country was moved into tears watching this young soldier, helpless and hopeful.

This is the first step in the right direction. The second should be the unification of Gilad with his family. Free Gilad Shalit. The government should invest in his release. It should be on its top priorities. Veshavu banim legvulam.

A freed Palestinian prisoner greeting an elderly relative from inside a Red Cross bus that brought her to Ramallah from an Israeli prison (Image: Getty Images) Haaretz (October 2, 2009)


In the UN, President Obama met with President Medvedev; there might be a breakthrough in the Russian stance regarding Iran. I wrote time and again that the keys for successful and effective sanctions against Iran are Russia and China. As long as they keep pumping the Iranian economy, Iran won’t have strong incentives to comply with the western pressure. The pressure should be a whole-embracing, international effort. President Medvedev signalled for the first time that Russia would be amenable to longstanding American requests to toughen sanctions against Iran significantly if, as expected, nuclear talks failed to make progress.

BBC News (September 24, 2009)

“I told His Excellency Mr. President that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Medvedev said, adding that “sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”

Unfortunately, the Chinese are still convinced that sanctions are not the right way to pursue. “Sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems," said spokeswoman Jiang Yu. She said sanctions "are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue". I wonder what exactly she thinks might be conducive. Anyway, the world needs Chinese cooperation as well. I presume China will awaken when more Muslim riots occur in their territory. For them, it is all partisan interests. With China, the content of discussion should be very different from the lofty “international peace and morality” terms espoused by President Obama and other western leaders.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: ‘The level of deception by the Iranian government, and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments, will shock and anger the entire international community. The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.'

Similarly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted: ‘The six [world powers] will meet with the Iranian representatives in Geneva. Everything - everything - must be put on the table now. We cannot let the Iranian leaders gain time while the motors are running. If by December there is not an in-depth change by the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken. This is for peace and stability.'

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also graced the UN with his presence. In a 35-minute address, he levelled familiar attacks against the United States and delivered an oblique rant against Jews, saying it was unacceptable for a “small minority” to dominate the politics and economy of much of the world through “private networks.” The famous Holocaust-denier refrained this time from mentioning the Holocaust.

NY Times (September 23, 2009)

President Ahmadinejad gave a number of interviews in which he proclaimed that he won the elections in his country fair and square. Here is an interesting blog regarding recent events in Iran:

On October 1, 2009, Iran appeared to pull back from confrontation with the West over its nuclear programme, agreeing to admit inspectors to a newly revealed nuclear plant near the city of Qom and to surrender some of its enriched uranium to be processed abroad, a concession which could delay or at least complicate its efforts to acquire a nuclear bomb. We shall soon see whether this is just another round of cat-and-mouse game, or a candid effort to meet the demands of the international community.

The Qom nuclear plant


Direct Budget Assistance to the Palestinian Authority

Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman, Washington, DC, July 24, 2009

The United States is the leading provider of bilateral economic and development aid to the Palestinians, providing an estimated $2.5 billion through USAID since 1993. The $200 million in direct budget assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that the Secretary announced July 24 represents the single largest transfer of budget support to the PA from any country since its inception. It is a part of the $900 million pledge for 2009 that the Secretary announced at the March 2 donors’ conference in Sharm al-Sheikh to address the immediate needs of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and support our longer-term approach of fostering the conditions in which a Palestinian state can be realized.

U.S. assistance helps to maintain the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and the continued stability of the Kingdom of Jordan, which signed its own peace treaty with Israel in 1994. U.S. funding also works to improve Palestinian civil society, and aid officials have worked to ensure that U.S. aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip is not diverted to terrorist groups. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has established new region-wide aid programs to promote democracy and encourage socio-economic reform in order to undercut the forces of radicalism in some Arab countries. (28 pages)

Wave of Violence Erupts in Northern Lebanon

Israel is extremely cautious about our northern neighbour Lebanon. We say Evil erupts from the North. Our soldiers spent far too much time on Lebanese land for all kind of purposes. Therefore, recent events in Lebanon occupy our serious attention. Clashes erupted on October 7, 2009 in the northern port city of Tripoli between followers of Lebanon's parliamentary majority and others loyal to the Hezbollah-led opposition, leaving eight people wounded.

The violence started when a rocket-propelled grenade hit Al Ashkar cafe in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood, followed by a hand grenade that was tossed near Al Nassri mosque in Tripoli's Bab al- Tabaneh.

The upsurge in fighting between Allawiites - who support the Hezbollah-led opposition and have ties to the Allawii ruling class in Syria - and Sunnis, who are backed by the Sunni-majority anti-Syrian March 14 coalition, began in July 2008.

Since the violence erupted last year, it has claimed the lives of more than 30 people, injured hundreds and displaced nearly 6,000 families, according to hospital sources in Tripoli.
Source: Oct 7, 2009, 20:06 GMT

Professor Ada Yonath Wins 2009 Chemistry Nobel

Israeli scientist Ada Yonath, 70, was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry for showing how ribosomes function, work that has important implications for antibiotics. Yonath shares the prize amounting to 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.4 million) with Americans Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz.

"As ribosomes are crucial to life, they are also a major target for new antibiotics," the Nobel Committee for Chemistry at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

Nobel winners Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath (Photo: Reuters)

A renowned scientist, Yonath serves as the director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

She was a co-recipient of the 2006 Wolf Prize in Chemistry, along George Feher, and in 2008, became the first Israeli to win a lifetime's achievement award from L'Oréal and UNESCO for her vital work identifying how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Now she has become the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Prof. Yonath celebrates with her daughter and granddaughter (Photo: AP)

Referring to her ground-breaking study Yonath said, "The topic was such that if a breakthrough could really be achieved, it would have Nobel-winning potential. It was considered difficult to the point of impossible."


Israeli High Education

Yonath is the fourth Israeli scientist to win this prestigious prize in recent years. This is testimony to the investment Israel made in the sciences from the 1960s until the 1990s. Unfortunately, with the present investment which is drastically lower, it will be difficult for any Israeli to make such ground-breaking achievements. The same politicians who rush to congratulate Yonath on her achievement should reinstall the funds they took from academic research in recent years. Israeli academia has lost significant portions of their budgets, not to mention many good scientists who chose to leave the country, or have no possibility to return as there are no openings.

In a new, very sad article, Itzhak Galnoor provides data about the crisis in Israel’s high education. In the years between 2001 and 2007, the real budget decreased in real terms by over 10 percent, while the per student budget decreased by some 20 percent. This affected especially universities whose budget is based on student tuition, like the University of Haifa. The budget cuts initiated by Minister of Education Limor Livnat (2001-2006) and Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu (2003-2005), both from the Likud Party, had a devastating effect on higher education in Israel. Direct government participation per university student decreased from 34,000 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) in 2000 to NIS 26,000 in 2007 and the student per faculty ratio increased from 16.2 in the 1990s to 23.9 in 2007. Total academic faculty size fell by 20 percent. Further consequences were increased faculty brain drain, inability to provide adequate research facilities, great difficulties in retaining top-rated doctoral students, danger of disappearance of entire academic disciplines, particularly in the humanities, and inability to compete with top universities abroad.

Source: Itzhak Galnoor, “Academic Freedom under Political Duress: Israel”, Social Research, Vol. 767, No. 2 (Summer 2009): 541-560.


The 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards competition is now accepting entries to honour cross-border investigative reporting on a topic of world significance. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) renamed the

prizes in 2008 in honour of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl who was killed by militants in Pakistan in 2002.

The competition is open to any professional journalist or team of

journalists of any nationality working in any medium. The reporting must

involve at least two countries. A five-member jury of international

journalists selects the winners. Past winners have reported about abuses

faced by immigrants in American workplaces; the involvement of Sweden in

the CIA secret renditions program; and allegations of sexual exploitation

of Congolese women and children by United Nations peacekeepers.

Two US$5,000 first prizes are awarded: one to a U.S.-based reporter or news

organisation and the other to a non-U.S.-based journalist or news

organisation. Five US$1,000 finalist awards are also given.

Submissions from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East are

especially encouraged. Deadline: 15 January 2010.

More on the web:

- The Daniel Pearl Awards:

My New Article

“Belgian Euthanasia Law - Critical Analysis”, Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 35, Issue 7 (2009), pp. 436 – 439.

The essay opens with some background information about the context of euthanasia in Belgium. It proceeds by discussing the Belgian law on euthanasia and concerns about the law. Finally, suggestions as to how to improve the Belgian law and practice of euthanasia are made, urging the Belgian legislators and medical establishment to reflect and ponder so as to prevent potential abuse.

Keywords: autonomy, Belgium, Caritas Flanders, euthanasia, palliative care, terminal sedation

The article is posted on my website,

New Books

Leslie Stein, The Making of Modern Israel 1948-1967. Cambridge: Polity, 2009.

Leslie Stein’s book provides a detailed, comprehensive analysis of Israel’s history from 1948 to 1967. Stein writes clearly, with a sharp eye for significant details. He makes invaluable contribution to our understanding of the events that shaped Israel in the first two decades of its establishment.

Stein takes us on a fascinating tour, highlighting major and lesser events in the history of young Israel. In this rich discussion, readers learn about wars and terrorism that have been inseparable parts of Israeli life, the discrimination against Israeli Arabs (p. 239), how and why Israel developed its nuclear capacity (p. 247), the Eichman trial (p. 231), the economy (p. 229), the kibbutz (p. 136), the Wadi Salib riots (p. 237), the Elie Cohen extraordinary espionage success in Syria (p. 251), the Samu vengeance operation (p. 259), and Israel’s foreign affairs with African as well as other countries (p. 260). Readers gain insights into decision-making processes that were often affected by internal rivalries and personal antipathies as well as by external powers. I highly recommend this fantastic and well-written book.

Alexandra Nocke, The Place of the Mediterranean in Modern Israeli Identity (Leiden: Brill, 2009)

This book is ethnography of modern Israel. Nocke explores the Middle Eastern elements of Israeli society, its music, food, literature, visual arts, architecture. She is able to capture Israeli identity in its genuine sense. The book is full of with warm feelings for my beloved Tel Aviv, where Nocke made many of her interviews with leading Tel Aviv personalities. She deserves kudos for her deep insights and penetrating observations of what makes Israel the state and culture it now is.

From the publisher: While early Zionists envisioned the Jewish state as an outpost of Europe in the Middle East, modern Israel is—geographically speaking—located in Asia and incorporates elements from both “Orient and Occident.” This book sheds light on how the Mediterranean region, its history, traditions, climate, and attitudes have shaped Israeli lived experience and consciousness. It offers new perspectives on the evolving phenomenon of Yam Tikhoniut (hebr. Mediterraneanism), which centers around the longing to find a "natural" place in order that Israel be accommodated in the region, both culturally and politically. This book explores Mediterraneanism as reflected in art, architecture, and daily life and analyzes the ways in which the notion comprises cultural identity, societal concepts, and political realities.

"Alexandra Nocke has done an exemplary job in her encounter with the question of Israel’s Mediterranean identity. This profound and wide-reaching research explores the question from every possible angle. Israel’s Mediterranean identity is, to my mind, the key to its future in the region. [...] This excellent book is highly recommended to anyone who is anxious about the fate of Israel." -- A. B. Yehoshua

Shmuel Greenbaum, A Daily Dose of Kindness (NY: Partners in Kindness, 2009).

Shmuel Greenbaum suffered a terrible tragedy. In 2000, he married Shoshana. In 2001, when his wife was pregnant, they went on a trip to Israel. There, on August 9, 2001, Shoshana was murdered by a terrorist bomber in a Jerusalem restaurant.