Monday, March 03, 2014

Politics – February 2014

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

American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.

~ President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address
January 28, 2014

This was the only reference to Israel and Palestine in a long, dense Address. President Obama clearly has other priorities in mind. It is not that he does not care. A realist as he is finds little sense in banging his head against two walls.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

This month was filled with media activity, with an interview to Haaretz on incitement; interviews to media outlets in Singapore and Estonia on euthanasia in Belgium, an op. ed. in a leading newspaper in Belgium as the country was about to legislate euthanasia for children, below, plus my usual share of communications promoting peace and two-state solution.

Peace is in my blood.

Reflections on January Newsletter
Peace v Piece (of Land)
Peace Activist’s Frustration
Peace Research
Boycotting Israel
The Holocaust
Anti-Semitism in Germany
Reflections of the Proposed Child Euthanasia Law in Belgium
My Sabbatical
Plymouth Lecture
My New Article
New Books
Monthly Poems
Gem of the Month - Plymouth Barbican
Light Side

Reflections on January Newsletter

People asked me about Dan Meridor's visit to Hull. I very much enjoyed his visit. Dan is a very interesting man, with fascinating stories to tell. We had a very long conversation about Israeli politics and the peace process, in which he was involved. He should write an autobiography. Dan has been in Israeli politics since the early 1980s, and has known all important leaders since then. I was very happy to host him in Hull, and was relieved all went well. As you can imagine, hosting the former deputy prime minister of Israel in Britain was challenging, with some obstacles to overcome.

Two pillars of Canadian Jewry who passionately care for Israel commented. Dr Ralph Halbert wrote from Toronto, Canada:

Dear Rafi,

I read with interest your article on academic freedom and the story of Meridor’s visit to Hull – Thanks Much!

I too support a two state solution – one caveat – with the appropriate security measures. I am pleased that you made reference to freedom of expression, academic freedom and free exchanges of ideas.

I ask for your indulgence. I am sufficiently disturbed about the blatant Anti-Semitism of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement by our “highly esteemed” academic brethren taking place. This is hateful – anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic.

As well, Academic boycotts defeat the point of the university, which is free intellectual exchange. Anything that politicizes the University--clearly the intention of the BDS movement--undermines its primary mission and its claim to integrity.

Best wishes for a Healthy and Productive New Year!

Warmest personal regards,

Shabbat Shalom


Mr Abe Silverman wrote from Alberta, Canada:

Jan 24/14
I hope that you are not taking Arafat's words in 1974 seriously. Has there ever been a more accomplished liar then Yasser Arafat? And Abbas as recently as last week stated that he and his people will never recognize Israel as a Jewish State. And what I find most bizarre is Ziad J. Asali wanting to know what is the meaning of a Jewish State. I wonder if he has the same question about the meaning of a Palestinian State.

And I would like to respond to the question about Nuclear weapons from Dr. Bert Keizer.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity all believe in some form of a Messianic age.
The big difference between what the Jews believe and what Islam believes is what makes Nuclear Weapons in the hands of the Ayatollahs so frightening. Jews believe that the Messiah will usher in a time of peace and prosperity and Islam believes that the Messiah will come when the entire world is Islamic.
This may sound somewhat simplistic but relevant non the less.

Abe Silverman

Peace v Piece (of Land)

Israel’s Minister of Defence is well-known, if not notorious, for his principled views against peace. He does not trust the Arabs, and believes in resilience, endurance, and keeping any piece of land Israel has. If possible, add to it but certainly not detract from it. For him, it is all about piece (of land), not peace.

Yaalon’s comments against John Kerry’s “obsession” to bring peace are embarrassing to any Israeli who wants peace. One expects from Israel’s Defence Minister more discretion and minimal prudence. After all, Yaalon knows more than many others the scope of assistance – material and other – that Israel receives from the United States, at the American taxpayer's expense.

An American friend asked me: Can you please bring to Hull your Defence Minister, so I can embarrass him to the same extent that he embarrassed my Secretary of State? My answer was that the Middle East Study Group is not in the business of insulting people. We try to be constructive, not destructive. But I do understand my friend’s frustration. Time and again, Mr Yaalon does not miss any opportunity to insert sticks in the wheels of peace. As said, he believes in endurance and in being strong. His horizon is one of another one hundred years of blood and tears, unending cycle of violence that would yield only more violence. The children of Israel, and Palestine, deserve a better future.

Peace Activist's  Frustration

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so difficult and protracted because of its difficult history. Two rivals on a very small piece of land. Both sides feel they have justified claims over this piece of land. Both sides have historical claims. Both sides feel they have been wronged. Both sides do not trust one another. Both sides speak of the other in exactly the same frustrating terms: “They are the enemy”. “They understand only force”. “They do not want peace”. “They want our land”. “They want to destroy us”. “They do not understand us”. “They do not appreciate our culture”. “They are evil”. “They are not to be trusted”, etc.

This conflict will not be resolved without a price, and if it won’t be resolved the cycle of violence will continue. If we won’t speak, we are doomed to fight. For me, blood is the highest price to be paid, and I am willing to pay smaller prices to avoid paying with blood. We must strive to achieve peace and do all that we can that future generations, our children and grandchildren, live in Israel and in Palestine like normal people, free of violence, terror and brutality.

Peace Research

I am writing a book on the failed peace process in the Middle East, from September 1993 until today. I spent a week at the Liddle Hart Archives at King’s College London, were I read interviews with decision-makers and negotiators of peace, conducted in 1997. There was nothing extraordinarily new in these interviews, yet they provided verification of details, colour, interesting stories, human touch and fascinating insights.

The most interesting interview was with Yoel Singer, who was recruited by Beilin and Peres after 5 months into the Oslo process to transform the academic paper, written by Yair Hirschfeld, Ron Pundak and their Palestinian counterparts into a legal document. Singer, who was a private lawyer working in Washington at the time, was especially brought to Israel, and Oslo, to voice his opinion about the document. He wanted to scrap it, feeling it would be easier to start from fresh than to try to amend that sloppy document . However, it was made clear to him that this was impossible as he entered the scene deep into the negotiations, and Peres et al thought this would bring the entire Oslo track down. Thus they asked Singer to correct the document but only when it was absolutely necessary. Also, the situation was difficult because the PLO expected to sign the document in the next meeting. Introducing drastic changes might have led to a crisis.

Singer did introduce drastic changes. So did the Palestinians. Both sides wished to have a deal. Both sides felt they had much to lose if agreement was not reached. Both sides wanted to show something to their respective people. Both sides wanted change.

Having said that, we need to bear in mind the context and just how things had developed. By all accounts, the Oslo watershed was quite extraordinary.  It started with one University of Haifa academic, Yair Hirschfeld, who wanted to do good. He began to work with Yossi Beilin on Palestinian affairs. He wanted to do something for peace. He came to know Terje Rod Larsen who offered to help and introduced him to Abu Ala. Hirschfeld and Abu Ala agreed to meet in Oslo as both of them knew that the Washington official channel was unlikely to yield any results. Hirschfeld made it clear to Abu Ala that he did not hold any official position in the Israeli government, and still Abu Ala agreed to meet with him. Hirschfeld brought his student, Ron Pundak, and Abu Ala brought with him two assistants. The five of them wrote the Declaration of Principles that later became the Oslo Accords. None of the five was a lawyer. For all of them this was a new experience.

In many respects, Hirschfeld accomplished the dream of many academics: many of us want to do good and affect reality for the better. Very few of us become involved in historic events. Even fewer initiate historic events of the Oslo magnitude. Hirschfeld knew he was not qualified to draft a peace treaty. In his interview he acknowledged Singer’s contribution: “My role was to bring the negotiation to that point at which Yoel Singer could come and begin the negotiation”.

Boycotting Israel

The signs on the wall are loud and clear: If Kerry’s initiative will not yield positive results that will put the peace wagon in motion, the Palestinians will approach any one they can to push for boycotting Israel, and/or the occupied territories. They will embark on an explicit international campaign via the UN and its institutions to smear Israel, and make it the pariah of the western world. It will be difficult for Israel, for Israelis around the world, and for Jews and others who care about Israel.

The Holocaust

On 7 May 1945, hell ended and the discovery of hell began.

On 27 January my wife and I attended the Holocaust Memorial Day at the Hull Guildhall. It was a respectful event. Each person in the audience laid a stone in memory of the victims. The Lord Mayor of Hull opened with words of welcome. Dr Martin Kapel told his personal story, his journey from Nazi Germany to Britain as a transport child. Dr Catherine Baker spoke of modern day genocide in Bosnia, and Alice Gold spoke of the Nazi horrors and expressed her dismay in facing modern manifestations of genocide.

I listened carefully and reflected. My study of the Holocaust goes back to my childhood.

I was eleven. It was the eve of Holocaust Day in Israel. My family and I were sitting in our living room, watching programs about the Holocaust on the only TV national channel, then in black-and-white.

I was trying to understand what was going on. One picture puzzled me. It showed a line of people, women, men and children, all standing naked in line, waiting. It seemed the weather was cold. I never saw a mixed group of people standing naked together, waiting. Waiting for what?

I asked my mom what was going on there.

She said: They were waiting to die.

To die? Why?

My mom hesitated.

Did they do something wrong?


So why?

Because they were Jewish.

What? Is this a reason to die? I am Jewish. Was I to die?


There were children there. Like me, even younger.

Does not matter.

I could not sleep that night. The following morning I went to the library and picked my very first book about the Holocaust, “The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square”. Then I began a long journey to understand why: why people wanted to kill Jews just because they are Jews? Why us? What brings people to do such a thing?

It took me seven years to understand this horror. During this journey I finished libraries. I read everything I could find and when I felt that the books repeated themselves I began to interview people who went through those shocking years in Europe: survivors of concentration and death camps, survivors of ghettos, partisans, slave labourers, victims of Nazi doctors. I met dozens of people from different parts of Europe. It did them good to speak to me. I felt I was doing a Mitzvah.

In 1982, together with a small group of people I established "The Second Generation to the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Organization" in Israel which became one of the largest NGOs in the country, with some 2,000 members. I headed the organization until I departed to Oxford for my doctoral studies.

The Holocaust continues to play an important role in my life. This historical event left a scar on my mind and heart. To a large extent, it made me the person I am. I detest evil, racism and injustice. And I do not keep quiet in the face of evil. Silence helps the tormentor, never the tormented.

Anti-Semitism in Germany

A new study on anti-Semitism, commissioned by the German Parliament, came to the distressing, widely publicized conclusion that 20% of Germans are “latent” anti-Semites. But buried deep in the report is an assertion that might be even more troubling: Holocaust education is inadvertently fuelling German anti-Semitism, making it worse.
The study concluded that “anti-Semitic stereotypes might be conveyed by the one-sided presentations of Jews as victims in [curriculum] plans and… books.’’ It noted that education about the Nazis often imposes “exaggerated moral expectations” on students, who respond with an anti-Semitism that is typified by “guilt denial.” In other words, explained Wolfgang Battermann, an educator from the town of Petershagen, “they feel accused of acts they had nothing to do with. Some hate the Jews for putting them in this situation.” And accounts of Nazi propaganda, if not presented carefully, can end up perpetuating vile stereotypes, especially in an era where half-truths and lies about Jews are readily available online.
Those trying to educate Germans about the Nazis must also contend with the well-documented and long-standing problem of “Holocaust fatigue”: Sixty-seven percent of Germans surveyed by researchers from Bielefeld University in 2008 found it “annoying that Germans are still held responsible for crimes against the Jews.”

Reflections of the Proposed Child Euthanasia Law

The following op. ed. was published in the Belgian newspaper De Morgen:

               Ik doe een beroep op de Belgische politici: wacht, studeer, denk na

OPINIE − 13/02/14, 06u00

Should children have the right to ask to die? Is it a logical move to grant terminally-ill children under the age of 18 who are in intolerable pain this right? These questions should be addressed while legislators are fully aware of the present situation and understand the likely consequences of such legislation. Here I wish to raise some questions and issues for discussion and further debate.

Since the enactment of the Euthanasia Law, the practice of euthanasia has been expanding. The number of euthanasia cases is increasing. Euthanasia is no longer limited to terminally ill patients. It may be applied to patients with chronic degenerative diseases. People who are depressed, who are unhappy with their lives, were euthanized. Ending patients’ lives without request or consent is a lingering problem. Terminal sedation is widely practiced, a procedure that does not require the patient’s consent. At the same time, research highlights the physicians' confusion and lack of understanding of the Euthanasia Act; the problem of inadequate consultation with an independent expert, and the problem of lack of notification of euthanasia cases. Shouldn’t Belgium address these nagging and troubling concerns before rushing to enlarge the scope of euthanasia to include children?

Presently, very few children have asked to die. Is it sensible to pass a law for less than ten children? One may argue that once the proposed law is passed, there will be pressure on both parents and children to agree to this act. There is a reasonable concern that the law might adversely change the good clinical practice of treating children. What mechanisms are installed to protect children? Are these mechanisms sufficient? There are valid concerns that children who should not die will die. How do you address these concerns?

Granted that physicians are not bad people. They wish to do good. But they are humans. As humans, we are all prone to make mistakes. When it comes to euthanasia, mistakes are irreversible. Data shows that the present safeguards for adult patients are insufficient. Children are more vulnerable than adults and it is our duty as a liberal society to protect them. If not enough effective mechanisms are installed to protect adult patients, isn’t it our responsibility to find mends to existing problems before creating potentially greater problems?

Furthermore, there were good reasons for limiting the original Euthanasia Act to adults. Are these good reasons still valid? Fundamentally, the questions are: Does maturity matter? Do you believe that children are susceptible to pressure? Do you think that children are independently able to make reasoned choices on very important issues?

Many of us do not think that children are entitled to the same rights that adults have. We put limits on certain things that we believe require a certain amount of maturity and responsibility (e.g., driving, voting, fighting wars, buying a house even when the child is privileged and has the money). We establish age of consent as we believe that some issues are better reserved to a later stage of life, when we develop our mental and physical faculties and could cope with partnership, sexuality, desires, and the raising of children. The right to die is no less important than any of the above issues. It brings to an end all other rights. Why should children be allowed this right while other rights are negated? Indeed, if children can consent to die, one may argue that they should enjoy the autonomy to vote, to marry, to have sex, to bring children to the world, and to do many other things that many of us believe children should not have the right to.

It is not obvious that children have the ability to formulate their opinions clearly and independently. More so when they are unhealthy. Physicians who believe in euthanasia and obviously enjoy a privileged position might sway children to choose euthanasia. Common sense dictates that we be extra careful when we discussing end-of-life issues.

People, all people notwithstanding their age, need compassion and care at the end of life. Medicine currently provides many avenues to ease patient’s pain. Sedatives are available to help patients at the end of life. Palliative care is available to address the physical aspects of the disease, and also the mental aspects; addressing patients’ fears, concerns, anxieties, offering aid at the end of life. With the growing attention to palliative care, physicians may recognize new vistas that are open to them and not rush to perform mercy killing.

A word about myself: I have been studying end-of-life concerns since 1991. I was a member of the Israel Public Committee on the Dying Patient that drafted the Dying Patient Law (2005), the only member (of sixty) who supported the legislation of physician-assisted suicide (PAS). Recently I was invited to consult British organizations that promote PAS. In both countries, antagonists emphasise the Belgian (and the Dutch) models as erroneous, as both countries seem to push rapidly the right to die at the expense of the right to life.

The Euthanasia Act was passed only in 2002, and the country is still in the early learning stages. Looking at the short history of the euthanasia law, policy and practice, may lead us to worry that there is something intoxicating about the practice, leading decision-makers to press forward further end-of-life practices without paying ample attention to caution. One safeguard after the other is removed to allow greater scope for euthanasia. Tolerance towards the practice is enlarged so as yesterday’s red lines become obsolete today, and as one red line is removed practitioners and law-makers are already debating a further step and other groups -- patients who are tired of life, now young patients, next demented patients -- to be included within the more liberal euthanasia policy. This is quite astonishing as human lives are at stake. What is required is a careful study, accumulation of knowledge and data, addressing the above concerns, learning from mistakes and attempting to correct them before rushing like frenzy to introduce more liberal ways to euthanize patients. I call upon the Senate: Wait. Study. Reflect. Move forward with the obligatory caution. A fine line distinguishes between ethics and policy. It is your role to draw this line prudently. Haste makes waste.

The first medical duty is Do No Harm. It is also your duty.

My Sabbatical

I have started my sabbatical. There are a few research projects I wish to advance during the next months: my book on social responsibility on the Internet; another book on the failed peace process in the Middle East, and an article on euthanasia in Belgium.

I am happy to receive invitations for talks and addresses. First on my priorities is to promote the two-state solution. The road to peace is long, with many twists and turns. We must get there. I believe.

Plymouth Lecture

I was invited to present my views on the peace process and prospects for peace at Plymouth University. They titled the event: “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The politics of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East”. This was part of their CogTalk series. Details at:

I thank Dr Lucy Davies, Professor Sue Denham and Professor Michael Hyland for their kind and caring hospitality. I enjoyed meeting Dr Mauro Galluccio, President of the European Association for Negotiation and Mediation. Mauro and I share many interests and I hope we will construct paths for cooperation.

My New Article

"After Leveson: Recommendations for Instituting the Public and Press Council", The International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 19, No. 2 (April 2014), Published online before print January 15, 2014, doi: 10.1177/1940161213516680.

On 13 July 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron set up an official inquiry committee headed by Lord Justice Brian Leveson to study the culture, practice and ethics of the press.  Presently, the British government is considering the best ways to implement the Leveson recommendations. This timely article analyses the Leveson Report, arguing t that the existing situation in Britain is far from satisfactory; that the press should advance more elaborate mechanisms of education, raising awareness of ethical concerns and self-control, and that while these mechanisms are indeed necessary, they are not sufficient. This essay agrees with Leveson that there is a need of empowering the new regulatory body with legal authority, thus equipping it with substantive ability to sanction. Building on the author's experience as a public representative on the Israel Press Council, the article ends with concrete recommendations as to how to improve the work of the press and to ensure that it will adhere to basic ethical and professional standards. It suggests a new and comprehensive Code of Practice, and instituting a new powerful body called The Public and Press Council.

Keywords: Britain, codes of ethics, Leveson, media ownership, press regulation, Public and Press Council

I am happy to send the article to interested parties.

New Books

Hugh LaFollette and Ingmar Persson (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2013).

This is a most interesting book by excellent scholars on fascinating topics. Contributors are Michael Smith, Simon Blackburn, Derek Parfit, Philip L. Quinn, Jeff McMahan, Richard Joyce, Elliott Sober, Ron Mallon, John M. Doris, Ingmar Persson, R. G. Frey, Brad Hooker, F.M. Kamm, David McNaughton, Piers Rawling, Thomas E. Hill, Jr., Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, L. W. Sumner, Jan Narveson, Michael Slote, Alison M. Jagger, Ingrid Robeyns, William R. Schroeder, and Hugh LaFollette.

I would especially like to note Blackburn on “Relativism”; Ron Mallon and John M. Doris on “The Science of Ethics”; Thomas E. Hill on “Kantianism”; Wayne Sumner on “Rights”; Jan Narveson on “Libertarianism”; Michael Slote on “Virtue Ethics”, and Alison Jagger on “Feminist Ethics”.

I thank Wiley for a copy of this book.

Monthly Poems

Winter Night

It snowed and snowed, the whole world over,
Snow swept the world from end to end.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

As during summer midges swarm
To beat their wings against a flame
Out in the yard the snowflakes swarmed
To beat against the window pane

The blizzard sculptured on the glass
Designs of arrows and of whorls.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

Distorted shadows fell
Upon the lighted ceiling:
Shadows of crossed arms, of crossed legs-
Of crossed destiny.

Two tiny shoes fell to the floor
And thudded.
A candle on a nightstand shed wax tears
Upon a dress.

All things vanished within
The snowy murk-white,hoary.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

A corner draft fluttered the flame
And the white fever of temptation
Upswept its angel wings that cast
A cruciform shadow

It snowed hard throughout the month
Of February, and almost constantly
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

Boris Pasternak

Gem of the Month - Plymouth Barbican

I enjoyed walking in the Plymouth Barbican with Mauro. I love water, connecting with the dolphin in me.

Light Side

     Sincere rabbinical student, 27. Enjoys Yom Kippur, Tisha B'av, Taanis Esther, Tzom Gedaliah, Asarah B'Teves, Shiva Asar B'Tammuz.  Seeks companion for living life in the "fast" lane. POB 90.
     Yeshiva bochur, Torah scholar, long beard, payos. Seeks same in woman. POB 43.
     Worried about in-law meddling? I'm an orphan! Write. POB 74.
     Nice Jewish guy, 38. No skeletons. No baggage. No personality.      POB 78.

     Female graduate student, studying kabalah, Zohar, exorcism of dybbuks, seeks mensch. No weirdos, please. POB 56.
     Staunch Jewish feminist, wears tzitzis, seeking male who will accept my independence, although you probably will not. Oh, just forget it. POB 435.
     Jewish businessman, 49, manufactures Sabbath candles,Chanukah candles, havdallah candles, Yahrzeit candles. Seeks non-smoker.. POB 787.
     Israeli professor, 41, with 18 years of teaching in my behind. Looking for American-born woman who speaks English very good. POB 555.
     Couch potato latke, in search of the right applesauce.  Let's try it for eight days. Who knows? POB 43.
     80-year-old bubby, no assets, seeks handsome, virile Jewish male, under 35. Object matrimony. I can dream, can't I? POB 545.

     Jewish male, 34, very successful, smart, independent, self-made. Looking for girl whose father will hire me. POB 53.
     Jewish Princess, 28, seeks successful businessman of any major Jewish denomination: hundreds, fifties, twenties.  POB 27
     Attractive Jewish woman, 35, college graduate, seeks successful Jewish Prince Charming to get me out of my parents' house. POB 46
     Divorced Jewish man, seeks partner to attend shule with, light Shabbos candles, celebrate holidays, build Sukkah together, attend brisses, bar mitzvahs.  Religion not  important.  PB 658

Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


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