Sunday, November 29, 2009

Politics – November 2009

The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the
 fundamental rights of every human being without distinction
 of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.
Constitution of the World Health Organization

Free Gilad Shalit. Veshavu banim legvulam.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Almost every week we hear that negotiations between Israel and the Hamas on prisoners exchange is just about to ripen, and Gilad will soon unite with his family. Until now, nada. Gilad is still in captivity, signalling the wrong message to new Israeli recruits. Young soldiers need to know that the country that sends them to fight stands behind them and does whatever it can do to bring them home. Nothing short of this promise is expected and accepted.

Gilad is still in captivity. Veshavu banim legvulam.

Obituary – Murray Smith

The Goldstone Report

Poverty and Social Gaps – Annual Report

Organ Trafficking in China

Reflections from Sapporo, Japan

Fourth International Conference on Applied Ethics

Debate with Andrew Silke

US Health Care Reform

American 2009 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

One day course on Europe's New Security Dilemma

My New Article

New Books

New Resource

The Sir Siegmund Warburg scholarship

Monthly Poem

Light Side

Free Gilad Shalit. The government should invest in his release. It should be one of its top priorities. Veshavu banim legvulam.


Obituary – Murray Smith

I stared at my screen with complete disbelief. The words I read hit me like an axe. Murray Smith is dead. My dear Murray is gone from the planet. Not from my heart.

Murray and I met in 1995, after I moved to Haifa. He was the Deputy Secretary-General of the Bahá’í International Community whose world center is in Haifa. For Murray this was his third career. His first was an accountant. Later he was elected to the New Zealand Parliament, and upon his retirement from politics he took the Baha’i leadership position. We started to meet on a regular basis, once every few weeks, usually in a restaurant, spending a few hours together discussing everything: Our families, our countries, our jobs, our religions, and most of all – politics. This “addiction” attacked both of us and does not let go. Murray thought that Israeli politics is much more fascinating than New Zealand politics. I was the last person to disagree. So we discussed Israeli politics in depth.

Murray was one of the first people to subscribe to my politics Newsletter and every once in a while he contributed comments, always without attribution. As the senior diplomat of the world Baha’i movement, he did not wish to jeopardize or compromise his position. He met many of the Israeli politicians, and we shared our views about them. We would analyze processes, options, possibilities, risks, windows of opportunity to promote peace in the region. Murray would have liked to exhaust every shred of opportunity to promote peace. He became an ambassador for Israel, though a critical ambassador. I, who learned my fair share of the Baha’i religion thanks to Murray, became an ambassador for his religion. I grew to appreciate the Baha’i way of life, and would defend it against its critics. Thanks to Murray I met wonderful people all around the world. Whenever I travelled he used to ask me: And when are you going now? I would answer and he would say: Maybe you could say hello to my good friend there. I never refused. The more I knew Baha’i people, the more I wanted to meet people affiliated to this community.

Murray loved his job. He was passionate about all that he did. He would travel from Haifa, to Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem on a regular basis. Always in his Volvo, which he would not replace for any other car. He would negotiate terms with the Israeli bureaucracy about his community’s investments, workers, pilgrimages. He complained about the rough treatment his community sometimes received from the Israeli ministries but would smile and move on.

When I founded the Center of Democratic Studies and I told him of the difficulties in raising money for its activities, Murray listened and immediately tried to help. We saw eye to eye on so many things, and he certainly appreciated all efforts to promote peace, tolerance and understanding among different communities in Israel, especially but not only between Arabs and Jews.

When he finished his term I saw that he was saddened to leave. He did not say this explicitly but I could read between the lines. Murray was built for diplomacy and the job suited his many qualities. The Baha’i World Center organized a farewell dinner and many diplomats came to bid farewell to this great ambassador. The keynote speaker was Shimon Peres, then in government (it is strange to think that Shimon is no longer in the Knesset, but in a neighbouring house down the road), who praised Murray. It was heartening to see Murray blushing in his wonderful way.

We last met in Auckland, New Zealand in March 2006. Murray came with his wife and we spent a day together. After lunch he organized a party in my honour with the Baha’i community. I had no idea that this would be our last time together.

My dear Murray: Cancer has beaten you. Rest in peace, the peace that you so much aspired to. Your spirit will live in many hearts forever.
I will carry your smile with me wherever I go. Good Bye, my friend.

The Goldstone Report

I continue to receive messages from people who do not like my stance on the Goldstone Report. It is quite clear from their arguments that they did not bother to read the Report. They decided it is anti-Israel and that’s it. The world is black and white. Israel is pure white.

I am sorry but I have never believed that. I love my country with all my heart but I believe that it is not very prudent to see the world in such extreme colours. As a student of history I know that there are no angels in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, both sides made, and continue to make, terrible mistakes.

The Goldstone Report details incidents in which Israel had violated rules of war, in breach of the Geneva Convention. Nothing short of a similarly detailed explanation would help clear Israel's name, and banish away the dark cloud that hovers and blackens its reputation. Arguments of the sort of "They started", "They are to blame", "They are evil terrorists" will not suffice. I am afraid that if Israel will not resort to constructive means to clear its name, and if this is impossible, take measures against those who committed the atrocities, the Goldstone Report will continue to damage Israel in many ways.

Judge Goldstone gave Al Jazeera a calm and calculated interview. I listened closely. Again, he did not sound to me biased and extreme. He refused the manipulations of his interviewer who pressed him (as interviewers of Al Jazeera usually do when it comes to Israel) to criticize and attack Israel beyond what the report had said. Goldstone said that if Israel were to establish a committee to investigate the war in Gaza that will be acceptable to him. But if not, Israel will suffer severe repercussions; the first already is the right of its decision makers and army commanders to travel freely in the world.

Poverty and Social Gaps – Annual Report

In 1989, while living at Oxford, my wife and I invited a couple from Caracas Venezuela to dinner. Inter alia, we spoke of our respective societies. I mentioned poverty in Israel when our guest interrupted me and said: But that’s impossible. Puzzled I asked: What’s impossible? To which he said: You just said that there are poor people in Israel. I replied: Yes? Well, our guest said, that’s surely is impossible. There are no poor Jews. He never encountered a poor Jew in Caracas.
I am reminded of this exchange because the National Insurance Institute has just published its annual report. Here are the main findings:

• The incidence of impoverished families remained stable in 2008: the rate of families whose net income fell below the poverty line was 19.9% in 2008, compared with the same percentage in 2007 and 20.0% in 2006.

• The rate of persons living in poor families is 23.7%.

• The incidence of impoverished children, which soared in the past decade at a rate of

60%, showed a decrease for the second time: 34.0% of children lived in poor families in 2008 compared with 34.2% in 2007, and 35.8% in 2006.

• In 2008, there were 420,100 poor families in Israel, encompassing 1,651,300 persons, of whom 783,600 were children.

• The incidence of poverty among Arab families is 49.4%.

• The geographical distribution of the poverty findings shows that the scope of poverty among families in Jerusalem is high. This is true for both Jewish and Arab families residing in the Jerusalem area.

Organ Trafficking in China

On November 16, 2009 ABC News published a story about organ trafficking in China, arguing that it is more active than ever despite efforts to crack down on the trade, with kidneys being openly bought and sold online in a dozen cities across the country.

According to ABC News, the Chinese Government has tried to limit organ trafficking by launching a national organ donation system earlier this year. But the program is failing to attract donors, with China boasting one of the lowest organ donation rates in the world, and instead people are turning to organ trading websites.
One Chinese kidney trading website is packed with organ brokers' advertisements where contact numbers are openly on display. The ads ask potential sellers to contact them, promising a safe surgery and a quick cash payment. Official statistics estimate more than one million people in China need organ transplants each year, yet only 1 per cent of them will receive one. Experts say four out of five patients die while waiting for a suitable match.

Professor Zhai Xiaomei, a bioethicist from the Chinese Academy of Medical Science, says it is this huge discrepancy in supply and demand that has fuelled the illegal trade: "The simplest reason is human organs are rare health resources, their supply is far less than their demand," she said.

Corrupt doctors

She also points out that corrupt doctors have assisted the trafficking: "The brokers are connected to those doctors who only care about money... It's also possible that the brokers lied to the hospital, saying the buyers and the sellers are relatives or have a close bond with [them] as the law allows live organ donations between these people... But any doctors with a sense of social responsibility will be able to tell if it looks dodgy, but often they turn a blind eye."

The latest revelations are a blow to China, which has been trying to restore its reputation after being criticised for its use of executed prisoners' organs as a primary source of transplants. The claim was acknowledged only recently by vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu during an interview with state media.

Professor Zhai says the Government has realised it has to find other solutions: "The problem with using executed prisoners' organs is that there is always a question mark if the organs were really voluntarily donated - it's very hard to verify... And as the society moves on, and [fewer] death penalties are handed out, the Government has to find other ways ... to educate and encourage the public to register as organ donors."

Slow progress

Zhao Lizhen, head of the Red Cross in the southern city of Shenzhen, helped set up the country's first organ donation office a year ago. She says promoting organ donation is no easy task in a country where people still hold onto their traditional values: "It's been tough, we made some but slow progress... Our volunteers who tried to talk to people in hospitals' intensive care unit or emergency departments were often met with rejection and even abuse... You have to remember that this is a country where people only just started to accept cremation instead of burial."
Dr Daniel Wikler from the Harvard School of Public Health works on health issues with developing countries including China. He says a national system is needed to boost organ donation rates: "Building up a system of voluntary donation and a system of transplantation as just a part of a functioning and adequate healthcare system will certainly be a step forward."

It is a daunting task, but Zhai Xiaomei says the Government has to take on the challenges: "We can't allow organ trading, it will promote crime, even murder... It's not a fiction anymore, it's actually happening... It will also threaten human dignity and increase the gap between the rich and the poor. Because organ trading will always end up with the poor selling their organs and the rich buying. It's not a society we want to live in."


Reflections from Sapporo, Japan

This month my academic career brought me to Lisboa, Portugal, and Sapporo, Japan. Prior departure I sought some advice. My friend Mike wrote: Never blow your nose in public. It is the equivalent of farting out loud (-:

No need to bow, they don’t expect it from a westerner. Or if you feel the need to bow, a little bow is perfectly acceptable. Ask permission to take off your jacket if you want to remove it (polite) when entering a formal meeting. Take care to take off your shoes when entering someone’s house. Never raise your voice or get angry (a sign of weakness, and lack of control). Be prepared to eat unusual foods (mostly seafood). Take care to leave a bit of food on your plate (especially at a sushi bar). Otherwise they might keep filling it up. If they make a toast to you, you should wait a bit and make a toast back to them.

My mentor wrote: Japanese retain (or used to retain) formality of address. The suffix '-san' is Japanese for Mr. (I was, and am still, always known as 'Knapp-san' but '-sensei' means doctor, professor, teacher and I was sometimes called 'Knapp-sensei'. I do not know what they, and you, will make of your crazy name but do not give a big grin and say 'Hi! I'm Rafi'.

My son Gilad, who usually does not care about my travels, became ecstatic once he heard that I am about to travel to Japan. Upon realising that he won’t fit into my largest suitcase nor the conference I am about to attend he prepared a list. The normally-speaking considerate lad made a two-page list of things I must bring with me, with 1-3 stars noting their priority and importance.


Equipped with the wise advice and Gilad’s extensive shopping list I embarked on the long trip to Japan. In the hotel reception, in each and every shift there was one person, usually a lady, who spoke English. I pleaded for her help. Reading the list, she was impressed. I explained this was for my son (-:. She did not know where to get some items, promising me that she will make enquiries. Meanwhile I went on a mission to find what she did know.
I don't think I have ever spent so much time shopping (shopping is not among the top 100 ways of spending my time) with so little success. I entered a store and spoke to a clerk who rushed to call a co-worker who did “speak” English, usually “yes”, “no”, “thank you”. I asked whether they have x. A polite smile and a nod was the answer. “Do you?” Another nod. “Ok, so where is it?” A smile. “You don't have it?” I tried. Another nod.
One ingenious clerk corresponded with his computer. I wrote a question, which he then typed it onto his computer, translating it to Japanese; then he wrote his answer and translated it to English.
I told the kind hotel receptionist of my troubles and she smiled and showed me that she had already translated Gilad’s list to Japanese. She instructed me to take a taxi to Tokyo Store. What a store! A complete nightmare! I went to the first worker I saw and showed her the list. For some reason, she had trouble reading it. She called another co-worker for help, and a third one, and finally a manager. This guy walked (or rather ran) with me in that huge store, finding all Gilad’s wishes. What a relief!

For Dana and Roei I went to Toys R Us. Four people welcomed me in fluent Japanese. I grinned at them and said: “Arigato, English please”. They exchanged embarrassed smiles. After some hesitation, one brave man walked forward. He became my guide in the shop.
Everything is quick. I never waited for the hotel elevator more than ten seconds.
Japan is the only country in the world in which I saw workers run to fulfil their duties.
I went to the historic beer museum in Sapporo. The guide did a brilliant job speaking with a constant welcoming smile on her face. God knows how she does it. Try to speak for an hour with a constant smile on your face. Tell me if you succeed.


Respect and dignity characterise human relationships. Japan is certainly the most courteous nation I have ever visited. No one raises his voice. There was not a single honking. Everyone is polite. Service is appreciated and given in the highest level. Usually two workers stand at the shop entrance and welcome customers. Two to five workers stand at the exit and bid them farewell.
As I was warned that I should not grin and say, as I usually do, “call me Rafi”, so I did not. One of my hosts called me Prof. Almagor, as my students sometimes do. Another asked: “How should I call you?” I answered “Raphael”. He thanked me for allowing him to call me by first name. “It is a great honour”, he said.
Japanese cultivate patience. You should see how people eat egg with chop sticks. Yet they respect your time. They are punctual, tidy, organised and well-behaved.
Aesthetics is a very important component of the culture. You see it manifested in many ways: Design, decoration, food, dress.
Japanese people are very courteous when they provide a service. Yet they do not hold the door for you. As I am spoiled in England, on the first day I got a door slammed in my face. Drivers do not stop for pedestrians in zebra crossing. You need to be very careful crossing the street.

I took a drink with me and upon emptying the bottle I looked for a bin. For many blocks none existed. Now the streets are clean. How can this be? The answer is simple: Japanese don't eat or drink on the street. The western habit of grabbing a coffee when going to work or wherever is unknown here. In Starbucks, the lady asks in English “here or to go”. You say “to go” and she puts your drink in a bag. Fine to drink it later but not on the street.

The children are well behaved yet happy. They don't seem repressed. They don't behave like kids in the western world. They behave like their parents.

Religion is moderately important. The Japanese relaxed attitude to religion reminded me of Reform Judaism, in line with Aristotle’s principle of moderation.

I saw one homeless person on the street.
Young girls walk in short pants or skirt, tights and boots to match. Some freeze to death in this outfit. If you love rain, you'll get your fair share in Sapporo. All youth hold cell phones. One was holding two cells in both hands, texting ferociously. I assumed one hand texted the other and the other was quick to respond. Another girl on a bike almost ran me over while texting.
One out of ten people wears a medical mask on their face, all in white. I was relieved the masks were not in black.
In my hotel there were twelve TV channels, all in fluent Japanese.


Even tourist guides in Sapporo speak fluent Japanese only.
An exchange between two Japanese in English may remind Israelis of the Arik Einstein- Uri Zohar exchange in the bible quiz competition “Gefen no Grooven”.

No one bothered me in an attempt to sell me things or invite me to restaurants. I assumed this lack of attention was due to communication deficiency. They all, young and old, speak Japanese. Only Japanese. They assumed I don't speak their language. Quite rightly so. I don't speak 99.9% of the world languages, including Japanese. Throughout my stay one guy approached me and I felt good for not being ignored as usual. His prepared note, in English, said: “please give emergency aid”.

Street Life

Sapporo municipality, like many municipalities around the world, enjoys destroying its main streets. Three men work in the trench while seven others watch them. I presume they lacked the necessary expertise as to how beat the hell out of the pipes.
People stop at red light. This is a prudent policy. In many crossings, cars may come running from three and even four directions.

Streets look American until you see the signs. On the main street, there was even a running commercial showing American baseball with Japanese captions. Looking at the streets, I could easily mistake them to be streets of a large American city (with Japanese letters). American, definitely not European.
Taxi cars look like Japanese boxes. Taxi drivers control the back door, open and close it. Sometimes they leave the back door open, a clear indication of trust in their potential passengers. The taxis have a little sweet yellow or green flag on their roof with a Japanese caption.

Japanese people are quiet. Yet their public spaces are the loudest that I have ever encountered. Loudspeakers everywhere, sometimes with overlapping noises. Many commercials are not only displayed but also heard. Hidden loudspeakers tell you all kind of things you wish or wish not to hear. Electronics shops offer a sure recipe for headache with a cacophony of noises, all blend and disturb one another.
In some places the same song is played continuously over and over again. I don't envy the clerks who are stationed there and need to listen all day, every day, to one and the same song that often sounds like a two-minute loud and fast-paced Eurovision song. Help!!

American companies are doing well in Japan, thank you. McDonald, KFC, Starbucks and 7/11 are everywhere.

Yes, Japan is expensive. At Starbucks, a very small latte costs like a large latte in the US. That's fine for the Japanese as they drink the small cup anyway. Taxi meter starts at 680 Yen (roughly 4.5 Pounds).
The toilet at the Sapporo central station was the cleanest I have ever seen for such a large terminal anywhere in the world.


Seafood, fish, sushi, presented in so many attractive ways.

Traditional dinner is accompanied by beer, sake and a Japanese spirit that is added to hot water.
Looking at photos of dishes is not an exact science. I told my host what dishes I like. He kindly wrote this on a piece of paper and armed with this note I went to restaurants. The urge for profit, however, does not stop in Japan. At the door I was told “yes, we have it” (in international language signs) and then the waitress will show me photos of other dishes as they don't have what I wished.

At dinner, live shrimps are served as a starter. One after the other they jumped off the plate in attempt to escape their lot. My host was not impressed. He broke each of them to two and served us the pieces, still moving.

At the market I went to a simple restaurant. Young executives in suits and ties were eating there while reading mangas that were available on the shelves. I thought it can't be bad. It was very good.


President Obama visited Japan when I was there. He is well respected also in this part of the world.

Fourth International Conference on Applied Ethics

As for the conference. Like all conferences it was mixed, with some very good lectures and less good ones. I particularly enjoyed the lectures of Kristin Shrader-Frechette and Randall Curren. Shrader-Frechette explained why people have justice-based duties to the environment. In a fascinating and well-argued presentation, she argued that ninety-five percent of all cancer cases are induced by environmental causes and that only five percent of the cases are hereditary. She encouraged us to take action now so as to save many lives. Ruining the environment is very costly, both in human lives and money (in Hebrew, Damim).
For further deliberation, see Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Taking Action, Saving Lives (NY: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Randall Curren spoke of sustainability. The human population doubled to two billion between 1800 and 1950, tripled between 1950 and 2000 from two billion to over six billion, and is currently rising by more than 200,000 people per day. The global human population, currently 6.7 billion, is projected to reach 9.3 billion by mid-century, at which point human demands on nature might be more than double what is sustainable. On a finite planet, Curren argues, this cannot continue indefinitely. Furthermore, about one-quarter of land mammals, one-third of freshwater fishes, 50 to 75 percent of amphibians and insects, and 70 percent of all plants are presently at risk of extinction. As many as 300,000 species have become extinct since 1950, and the majority of the 10 million or so remaining will probably be destroyed in our lifetimes. Moreover, problems of water availability are already becoming acute in some parts of the world, and are getting worse as global warming contributes to drought conditions. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have already risen from the pre-industrial level of 275 ppm to 385 ppm. How much farther they could rise without eventuating in utter catastrophe is a matter of debate.
I thank Shunzo Majima and Masataka Muramatsu for their kind hospitality.

Debate with Andrew Silke

In Lisboa, Portugal, I was invited to contribute to a conference on “Terror and the Challenges to Nation-state”. Another participant, Professor Andrew Silke, gave a fascinating talk on “Understanding and responding to terrorism”. What did I learn from Silke?

First, there are many books on terrorism. Up until September 11, 2001, each year throughout the 1990s some 30-50 books (in English) were published. After September 11, one book on terrorism is published every day, more than 360 books a year. However, “most of it is rubbish” as they do not cover new grounds. These books do not interview terrorists or law-enforcement officers. All they do is interpret already existing literature.

Second, it is impossible to distinguish between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” or “resistance movements”. Timothy McVeigh, Shoko Asahara (the Supreme Truth, Aum Shinrikyo, leader), Gerry Adams, Menachem Begin, Yassir Arafat, Nelson Mandela and Osama bin-Laden were all described at one time or another as terrorists. Some of them became leading statesmen of their peoples.

Third, why do governments pursue and kill terrorists? Because it is popular. Attacking terrorists increase their popularity. Bill Clinton’s attacks on targets in Afghanistan increased his popularity. Israel’s targeted assassination policy increases the government’s popularity. In addition, the death penalty is popular in the United States and so is Israel’s house demolishing policy. Furthermore, Israel had built the wall, in violation of international law, to combat suicide bombing. Was it successful? No. Suicide bombing indeed decreased from 60 successful attacks to one but the Palestinians increased their use of rockets. Israel said, “We’ll take rockets” as only three people died as a result of rocket attacks compared to dozens each year due to suicide attacks. Silke’s stops his analysis of the rocket attacks in 2007.

Moreover, Israel is a dubious democracy because it continuously violates international law and conventions. Israel is an ethnic democracy where Arabs under its control do not enjoy the vote.
As for justifications to fight terrorism, Silke said that Israel had dropped a one-tone bomb in order to kill one or two people it perceived as terrorists. But with them all other people in the building were killed, and this “happened a number of times”. He asked: Is this legitimate? In his opinion, such brutality only increases the victim’s demand for “justice” and “revenge”.

I found Silke’s analysis problematic, shallow and inaccurate. First, I think we can learn from research based on secondary sources. I encourage reliance on primary resources but not all researchers are able to gain access to terrorists and law-enforcement officers. I would certainly not collectively dismiss a massive body of literature with the single word “rubbish”. This sense of elitist dismissiveness (Silke conducted interviews with terrorists) does not promote knowledge, engagement, truth, understanding.

Second, people who blur the distinction between “terrorists” and “resistance fighters”, who resort to the cliché that one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter only play to the hands of terrorists and contribute to their legitimacy. The list of names he threw into the pile was comprised of a mixture of people, some of them transformed from terrorists to statesmen (Mandela, Begin, Adams), some remained terrorists (McVeigh, Asahara, bin Laden), and one who acquired a facade of a statesman while remaining a terrorist (Arafat). A person who is engaged in violence to promote fear and create mayhem by indiscriminate targeting of civilians for religious, political or ideological purposes is a terrorist. No other name is suitable, certainly not freedom

This lecture is one example of a British view of Israel, prevalent in Europe. Much of Silke’s criticisms of the wall could have been avoided if it were built inside Israeli territory. Instead, all of it is built in Palestinian territory. And the one incident in which Israel resorted to a one-ton bomb to kill an arch-terrorist multiplied when interpretations of the event start. Israel certainly helps its critics by making political mistakes that undermine its international standing.

US Health Care Reform

A substantive percentage of the US budget goes to health care. Yet, tens of millions of Americans do not have health insurance, and tens of millions have only partial insurance. Much of the budget has gone to the private health insurance companies that have made billions during the past thirty years or so. This is a sad phenomenon that needs to change. It is distressing to see that the economic giant of our time cannot cater to its own citizens. Cuba has a better health system than the USA, not to mention tiny Israel. The American healthcare system is too detached, too impersonal, too uncaring. This healthcare model exposes the fallacies of crude capitalism. There are better ways to strike a balance between societal concerns and individual needs. The present American model for health care is simply not a good model, especially when one considers how much money is spent and the fact that large parts of the American public still receive poor

On November 7, 2009, the US House of Representatives backed a healthcare bill in a step towards reforms promised by President Obama, despite strong opposition. Passed by a narrow 220-215 vote, the bill aims to extend coverage to 36 million more Americans and provide affordable healthcare to 96%. The bill was supported by 219 Democrats and one Republican - Joseph Cao from New Orleans. Opposed were 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats.

The plan would cost $1.1 trillion over 10 years. Democrats said the legislation would provide overdue relief to Americans struggling to buy or hold on to health insurance. Democrats say the House measure — paid for through new fees and taxes, along with cuts in Medicare — would extend coverage to 36 million people now without insurance while creating a government health insurance program. It would end insurance company practices like not covering pre-existing conditions or dropping people when they become ill.
The Senate now has to pass its own bill and the two must then be reconciled before the programme can become law.

President Obama described the vote in the House as "historic", saying he was "absolutely confident" the Senate would follow suit. The legislation could lead to the biggest changes in American healthcare in decades.


· Aims to provide affordable healthcare to 96% to redress 2008 figure of 47 million uninsured

· Individuals must obtain coverage and most firms must provide it to workers

· Creates an insurance market for purchase of coverage

· One product will be a government health insurance plan

· People with pre-existing health problems cannot be denied insurance

· Funded by raft of measures, including 5.4% surtax on those earning $500,000 a year or more

· Those who earn up to 150% of poverty level to qualify for Medicaid government programme for the poor

· Insurers must justify increases in premiums

Democratic Party representative John Dingell said: "[The bill] offers everyone, regardless of health or income, the peace of mind that comes from knowing they will have access to affordable healthcare when they need it."

After the vote, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said: "I thank the president for his tremendous leadership, because without President Obama in the White House, this victory would not have been possible."

One key concession to get the bill through was to anti-abortion legislators. An amendment was passed that prohibits coverage for abortion in the government-run programme except for rape, incest or if the mother's
life is threatened. Private plans can still offer the cover.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid said after the House vote: "We realise the strong will for reform that exists, and we are energised that we stand closer than ever to reforming our broken health insurance system."

Sources: “Sweeping Health Care Plan Passes House”, NY Times (November 8, 2009),

BBC NEWS (November 8, 2009):

American 2009 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

The U.S. Department of State published its 2009 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom in October 2009. The report identifies 30 countries as being specifically worthy of concern over their lack of tolerance for religious freedoms. During the period between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, the Department of State has also found that at least 22 countries, including many countries that had been criticized for their low levels of tolerance, have taken steps toward the consolidation of religious freedoms.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hopes that the report “will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world and promote dialogue among governments and within societies on how best to accommodate religious communities and protect each individual’s right to believe or not believe, as that individual sees fit.”

Israel and the occupied territories

Based on its pre-1967 borders, the country has an area of 7,685 square miles. The country has a population of 7.4 million (including settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem), of which 5.6 million are Jews, 1.5 million are Arab Muslims and Christians, and 320,000 are classified as "other"-- mostly persons from the former Soviet Union who immigrated under the Law of Return but who did not qualify as Jews according to the Orthodox Jewish definition used by the Government for civil procedures.
According to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics for 2007, the latest year such information was available, 7 percent of the Jewish population is ultra-Orthodox, 10 percent is Orthodox, 39 percent describe themselves as "traditional religious" or "traditional non-religious," and 44 percent describe themselves as "non-religious/secular" Jews, most of whom observe some Jewish traditions. It also estimated that 30 percent of the country's Jewish population was born outside the country. A growing but still small number of traditional and secular Jews associate themselves with the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist streams of Judaism. Although not officially recognized for purposes of civil and personal status matters, groups composed of adherents of these streams of Judaism received a small amount of government funding and were recognized by the courts. There is a small but growing community of approximately 10,000 Messianic Jews.

Slightly more than 20 percent of the population is non-Jewish, the vast majority of whom are ethnic Arabs. Of the total population, Muslims (nearly all Sunnis) constitute 16.5 percent, Christians 2.1 percent; Druze 1.7 percent; other religious groups 0.5 percent, including relatively small communities of, among others, Messianic Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Baha'is.

The Government reported that during 2008 it issued nearly 100,000 permits for foreigners to work in the country, and estimated that another 80,000 to 150,000 illegal foreign workers resided in the country. Foreign workers are members of many different religious groups, including Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic traditions.
The state does not recognize conversions to Judaism performed in the country by non-Orthodox rabbis. The Government provides funds for Orthodox conversion programs but does not provide support for non-Orthodox (i.e. Reform and Conservative) programs. The High Court ruled on May 18, 2009, that the Government must cease discriminating against non-Orthodox conversion institutes. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) sponsored Orthodox Jewish conversion courses for Jewish soldiers who received non-Orthodox (and therefore unrecognized) conversions and for soldiers not recognized as Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinical authorities. Residency rights were not granted to relatives of converts to Judaism, except for children of female converts who are born after the mother's conversion is complete.

Military service is compulsory only for Jews, Druze, and the 5,000 member Circassian community (Muslims from the northwestern Caucasus region who immigrated to various points in the Ottoman-controlled Middle East in the late nineteenth century). Ultra-Orthodox Jews who study Torah full-time and Israeli Arabs--both Muslim and Christian--are exempt. The majority of Israeli Arabs opt not to serve in the army; however, some Christian and Muslim Arab citizens, mainly Bedouin, serve as volunteers. As of June 2007, Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews can perform national service for one to two years as volunteers in health, education, or welfare sectors in lieu of military service. This service confers eligibility for similar national benefits accorded military veterans. Israeli-Arab advocacy groups, Knesset members, and local community leaders have charged that housing, educational, and other benefits, as well as employment preferences based on military experience, effectively discriminate in favor of the Jewish population, the majority of which serves in the military.

According to government figures, the 2008 budget for religious services and religious institutions for the Jewish population was approximately 1.6 billion shekels ($457 million). Religious minorities, which constituted slightly more than 20 percent of the population, received approximately 65 million shekels ($18.6 million), or just less than 4 percent of total funding.
The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) has an area of 2,238 square miles and a population of 2.4 million persons, not including approximately 300,000 Israelis. East Jerusalem has an area of 27 square miles, and its population is 415,000, including approximately 180,000 Israelis. The Gaza Strip has an area of 143 square miles and a population of 1.5 million.

Approximately 98 percent of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories are Sunni Muslims. While estimates vary in the absence of reliable census data, there are about 120,000 Christians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and an estimated 1,500 to 2,500 Christians in the Gaza Strip. A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder consists of Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Protestants, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Copts, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Protestant denominations. Christians are concentrated primarily in the areas of Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, but smaller communities exist elsewhere. According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has accelerated since 2001, reducing the number of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Most left for security and economic reasons, often related to the effects of the barrier; however, low birth rates among Palestinian Christians also contribute to their shrinking numbers. There is also a community of approximately 400 Samaritans located on Mount Gerazim near Nablus in the West Bank.

In East Jerusalem, the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) contains the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, among the holiest sites in Islam. Jews refer to the same place as the Temple Mount and consider it the location of the ancient Jewish temple. The location has been, as with all of East Jerusalem, under Israeli control since 1967, when Israel captured the city (East Jerusalem was formally annexed in 1980, and thus Israel applies its laws to East Jerusalem). The Haram al-Sharif--and all other Waqf institutions in Jerusalem--are administered, however, by the Jerusalem Waqf, a Jordanian-funded and administered Islamic trust and charitable organization with ties to the PA.

See Israel and the occupied territories at

One day course on Europe's New Security Dilemma

I was asked to post the following:

On December 19 2009 the Department of Strategic Intelligence and Security of Link Campus University (Rome, Italy) will hold an advanced one-day course on "Europe's New Security Dilemma: Violent and Non-Violent Political Islamism in Europe and Counterterrorism Strategies" with Dr Lorenzo Vidino and Dr Patrick Sookhdeo.

The course will be held in Rome (Italy) and is designed for law enforcement, security and intelligence professionals as well as think tank and private sector experts and analysts.

For registration and information on the course program please go to the following website or contact Cristina Palmieri

My New Article

“Critical Remarks on the Dutch Policy and Practice of Euthanasia and Proposed Guidelines for Physician-Assisted Suicide”, in Ante Covic, Nada Gosic and Luka Tomasevic (eds.), From New Medical Ethics to Integrative Bioethics (Zagreb: Pergamena, 2009), pp. 197-216.

This is a special volume dedicated to my good friend Ivan Segota, as he celebrates his 70th birthday. My essay opens with some personal words about my acquaintance with Ivan Segota. I proceed by explaining the methodology of my research on euthanasia in the Netherlands. I then detail the major findings and end with guidelines for physician-assisted suicide (PAS). My research in the Netherlands made me change my mind: from supporter of euthanasia I became an ardent opposer of this practice. I think, however, that physicians should not turn a deaf ear to patients at the end of life, who suffer miserably and request to die. Therefore, PAS is suggested. To prevent potential abuse, we need to devise very careful guidelines which, I believe, are suitable for democracies as we enter the 21st Century, an era of highly developed technology which brings a lot of good but, in the field of medicine, might prolong patient’s life unnecessarily. At the center of guidelines is the patient, and the underlying values of treatment are respect for the patient and her autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and compassion.
As ever, I’d be happy to circulate my new article to interested parties.

New Books

James Curran and Jean Seaton, Power Without Responsibility (London: Routledge, 2009).

Power Without Responsibility is the new edition of a classic, authoritative and engaged introduction to the history, sociology, theory and politics of media and communication studies. Written in a lively and accessible style, it is regarded as the standard book on the British media. This new edition has been substantially revised to bring it up-to-date with new developments in the media industry. Its three new chapters describe the battle for the soul of the internet, the impact of the internet on society and the rise of new media in Britain. In addition, it examines the recuperation of the BBC, how international and European regulation is changing the British media and why Britain has the least trusted press in Europe.
James Curran is one of the people I appreciate most in the field of media studies. I have been following his career for many years and will continue to do so.


START-UP NATION: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle

By Dan Senor and Saul Singer Visit Amazon's Dan Senor Pagesearch resultsLearn about Author Central

This book addresses the trillion dollar question: How is it that Israel—a country of 7.6 million surrounded by enemies—produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful nations like Japan, China, India and the UK? How has Israel managed to become a leader in business innovation?


New Resource

Mitchell G. Bard and David Nachmias. Eds. Israel Studies: An Anthology. 2009. Jewish Virtual Library.

Congratulations to Mitch and Dave for this important resource.

The Sir Siegmund Warburg scholarship

The Sir Siegmund Warburg scholarship, launched in 2009, offers Palestinian and Israeli students the opportunity to undertake full-time postgraduate human rights study at LSE.

The MSc Human Rights programme offers a concentrated, twelve-month engagement with human rights. The core course ‘Approaches to Human Rights’ provides students with an overview of the various philosophical, sociological and legal approaches to the subject. The core course is designed to give a strong intellectual underpinning to the MSc, which is then built on further through the choice of optional courses and a dissertation subject which each student makes. More information about the MSc Human Rights is in the graduate prospectus.

The scholarship will cover the tuition fee (£1 4,904) and living expenses of £1000 per month (for up to 12 months). One scholarship will be awarded each year.
How to apply

1. Make a formal application to the LSE to the MSc Human Rights via the online LSE application form.

2. Once holding an offer of a place, eligible students will be invited to apply for the Sir Siegmund Warburg Scholarship.

3. Applications must be received by Friday 23 April 2010. Submission details will be sent directly to eligible applicants.

The criteria

Applicants must be resident in Israel, Palestine/ Occupied Territories or Palestinian camps in Syria, Jordan or Lebanon and in possession of a formal offer of a place on the MSc Human Rights at LSE.

They must be able to demonstrate both financial need and the potential to engage in, promote and set high standards for human rights work in the region. Eligible applicants will be required to submit a personal statement in which they should explain how they meet the criteria set out for the Scholarship and how they envisage putting their study programme to practical use.

As scholarship applications can only be accepted by those who have already been offered a place on the MSc Human Rights, candidates are urged to apply to the MSc Human Rights as early as possible.
The Sir Siegmund Warburg Scholarship has been made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Monthly Poem

A Woman Waits For Me/ Walt Whitman

A WOMAN waits for me--she contains all, nothing is lacking,

Yet all were lacking, if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the

right man were lacking.

Sex contains all,

Bodies, Souls, meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results,


Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal


All hopes, benefactions, bestowals,

All the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth,

All the governments, judges, gods, follow'd persons of the earth,

These are contain'd in sex, as parts of itself, and justifications of


Without shame the man I like knows and avows the deliciousness of his


Without shame the woman I like knows and avows hers.

Now I will dismiss myself from impassive women,

I will go stay with her who waits for me, and with those women that

are warm-blooded and sufficient for me;

I see that they understand me, and do not deny me;

I see that they are worthy of me--I will be the robust husband of

those women.

They are not one jot less than I am,

They are tann'd in the face by shining suns and blowing winds,

Their flesh has the old divine suppleness and strength,

They know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike,

retreat, advance, resist, defend themselves,

They are ultimate in their own right--they are calm, clear, well-possess'd of themselves.

I draw you close to me, you women!

I cannot let you go, I would do you good,

I am for you, and you are for me, not only for our own sake, but for

others' sakes;

Envelop'd in you sleep greater heroes and bards,

They refuse to awake at the touch of any man but me.

It is I, you women--I make my way,

I am stern, acrid, large, undissuadable--but I love you,

I do not hurt you any more than is necessary for you,

I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for These States--I

press with slow rude muscle,

I brace myself effectually--I listen to no entreaties,

I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated

within me.

Through you I drain the pent-up rivers of myself,

In you I wrap a thousand onward years,

On you I graft the grafts of the best-beloved of me and America,

The drops I distil upon you shall grow fierce and athletic girls, new

artists, musicians, and singers,

The babes I beget upon you are to beget babes in their turn,

I shall demand perfect men and women out of my love-spendings,

I shall expect them to interpenetrate with others, as I and you

interpenetrate now,

I shall count on the fruits of the gushing showers of them, as I

count on the fruits of the gushing showers I give now,

I shall look for loving crops from the birth, life, death,

immortality, I plant so lovingly now.

Light Side

One Sunday morning, the priest noticed that little Anthony was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church.

The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The ten year old boy had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the priest walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, "Good morning Anthony."
"Good morning father," replied the young man, still focused on the plaque.

"Father Murphy, what is this?" Anthony asked.

"Well, son, its a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service."

Soberly they stood together, staring at the large plaque.
Little Anthony's voice was barely audible when he asked,

"Which service, the 9:00 or the 10:30?"

Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


My last communications are available on

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