Thursday, June 25, 2015

Politics – June 2015 – People and places

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

The last few months I have been travelling. Remember nosey Samantha? If I could do a little twist of my nose, and skip the "enjoy your flight" thing, I would do it with great relief.

The triumph of humanity is to recognise diversity and difference yet having the ability to bring people together and create bridges between them.

If you wish to understand Prime Minister Netanyahu, familiarise yourself with Sheldon Adelson, the man behind the prime minister who facilitates Bibi’s reign.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Reflections on May Newsletter
Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway
5th International Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem
Professor Yehuda Bauer
President Meir Shamgar
Dr Yossi Beilin
Mr Ziad AbuZayyad
Mr Yossi Sarid
Thank You!
Nagging Question
Tzuk Eitan Reports
The Governance of Religious Diversity. More or Less Secularism?
Pakistan Clerics Issue Fatwa Declaring Suicide Attacks ‘un-Islamic’
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt Gushed over Israeli High-tech
Help Promote Peace One Day
Workshop in Oñati
My New Article
New Books: Babel in Zion - Winner of The Shapiro Prize for Best Book in Israel Studies, 2015
Gem of the Month – Tel Aviv
Gem of the Month - Bilbao
English Football - Exchange with Professor Wayne Sumner
Monthly Poems

My Children’s Favourite Statement

Light Side

Reflections on May Newsletter

Sir Richard Dalton commented:

Dear Rafi

I don't think much of your Iran expert's views.  The Iranians need the deal badly, but will not choose humiliation, of course.

Counter revolution is very unlikely - you can't rule it out but I expect that Iranians will still fear bloodshed and chaos in three years.  Most will still want evolution.  A big slice of each of three or more of the following would need to work and risk all for change for it to be successful: parliament, the security forces, the intellectuals and civil society, the street, the government machine, the mullahs, the bazaar….

Kind regards


Lawrence Joffe wrote from London:

Hello Raphael - congrats on a most informative and readable analysis. I take it you were being ironic when you described the latest Bibi conglomeration as "great"! 

I think you were right to highlight his often overlooked strategy of multiplying the number of cabinet posts. In my view this is no accident; he did so in 2009 and the desired effect seems to be to be the fomenting of petty turf wars amongst ministers, thus allowing a "presidential" Netanyahu to rule over the fray. Except that it backfired earlier this year when Tzipi and Lapid ganged up on him and prompted an early election!

Your warnings about the agendas of Shaked, Ariel, Bennet, Elkin and Regev are well taken. And you have encouraged me to find out more about Yariv Levin... and what really drives Likud in the 21st century. Thanks too for writing with [suitably sardonic] humour - a welcome balm in troubled times. 

Lastly, I am still  trying to work out what Bibi's grand plan is re: talks with Palestinians. Oh, he has left that to Hovotely. That's a relief. Or probably not...

Thanks again - Lawrence

Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway

I continue to present my new book, Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway (Washington DC.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Cambridge University Press, 2015). After Dartmouth and Krakow, I was invited to Jerusalem and Oñati.

I am happy to accept further invitations to present this study. This is the product of nine years of thinking and research on a delicate and timely topic.

5th International Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem

I was invited to present the book’s thesis on fighting hate on the free highway at the 5th International Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. The conference was opened by Prime Minister Netanyahu who, as always, related to Iran. His speeches are of one dimension. He stated that the Jewish state will defend itself by itself against any threat.

I think that the Palestinian issue is far more important to the fight against anti-Semitism than Iran. However, resolving the Palestinian issue demands leadership, courage, peaceful horizon and willingness to compromise.

You can watch my speech at

Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of the city of Paris, spoke strongly against anti-Semitism and terrorism.  The Charlie Hebdo murderers abused religion to undermine humanity. Hidalgo repeated that all Jews are welcome in Paris. The Jewish community thrives and continues to thrive. She said: We, Parisians, are proud of our synagogues. We are proud of our relationships with Israel. In Paris there are more Kosher restaurants than in New York. More than any other place outside of Israel. The city celebrates diversity. There is vibrant Jewish community life. 

Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Multiculturalism in Canada, said that Canada is concerned with growing anti-Semitism. He spoke of education as a tool to fight anti-Semitism. Pupils in Canada learn about the horrors of the holocaust.

My panel included representatives from Google and Facebook. Juniper Downs of Google emphasized the importance of counter-speech. We need to build capacity and encourage engagement. Downs said that context is a key when we speak of policies. Information on the Internet may be educational, documentary or artistic. People are offended by all kind of things. If there is an artistic merit in speech, then Google tends to protect the speech.

As an illustration, Downs showed a photo: A protester carrying a sign: God hates Jews. Context is important. Google will allow showing this if the message is designed to denounce that hateful message. Google will not allow condoning this message.

Google collaborates with stakeholders to devise policies. It has community guidelines. Harassment, nudity and hate speech are not allowed. Google does not allow violence against groups or speech that incites hatred on the basis of certain characteristics such as gender, religion, sex, or race. Users can alert Google when they encounter hate speech.

Downs said that Google serves people with the most relevant and accurate information. Consequently, Holocaust denial should not appear when one searches for Holocaust. But unfortunately it does. The hateful site, Jew watch, should not appear when one is searching for “Jew”. Unfortunately it does, and very high on the Google list. Jew watch should appear when one is searching for Jewish hatred.

Despite Downs’ statements, Google does not think it should have a voice to counter hate. But it does feel it has a voice on child pornography. There is a need to identify common grounds to move forward. For concerned citizens, ISPs and governments.

Gena Turgel has told her personal story as a Holocaust survivor. But if you search her name you will come across Holocaust denial. Concerned people came together and they found who was the host of the hateful site in a European country. The website was taken down. But of course, now another denial site is associated with her name.

Simon Milner of Facebook also emphasized the importance of counter speech. He said that most content on Facebook is positive. Facebook wants to provide as much voice as possible to most people. Some people, however, want to share hate. Per Facebook community standards, content that directly attack people will be removed. Facebook also does not allow hateful organizations.

People can complain about problematic speech. Every complaint is looked at by two people to ascertain that the speech in question is indeed hateful. Facebook advises people what was decided about their complaints. 

Milner stressed that threats of violence should be directed to law enforcement. Officers then will contact Facebook and the company will cooperate with them. Facebook trains law enforcement about dealings with such content.

In the UK, True vision provides a platform for users to send complaints about threats.

Facebook is learning all the time. More resources are applied to fight against hate. Hundreds of people are working on this problem throughout the world, in thirty different languages. Milner said that photos and videos are widely shared. They have far more impact than text.

Milner maintained that Facebook commissioned the services of Demos to look at the darker sides of the Internet. Demos will publish their findings soon.

American Ambassador Dan Shapiro spoke of the need to expand the coalition against anti-Semitism also by bringing imams to death camps in Poland. He maintained that the USA is keen to uncover the truth regarding the bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina. There is no statute of limitation on acts of terrorism. The USA is not silent and will not be silent. Recently, USA opposed anti-Semitic comments made in Turkey. Secretary of State Kerry did not stay silent in the face of such comments. We must raise our voice loud and clear in the international arena. We need to continue the struggle for human rights and against extremism. Shapiro emphasized that Israel and USA share principles of human rights, of freedoms and fighting violence and bigotry.

The videos of the Forum which took place from 12-14 May 2015 in Jerusalem and included 2 working groups on antisemitism in Europe are online.

Professor Yehuda Bauer

Last month I told you about my visit to Auschwitz. I returned with some nagging questions and Professor Yehuda Bauer helped with sharp insights and knowledge. There are not many people in the world who know about the Holocaust to the extent that Yehuda does.

My first question was: What did the prisoners in Auschwitz have, and where did they keep their belongings?

Professor Bauer: Each Auschwitz prisoner received upon arrival a striped suit, pair of wooden shoes, a spoon, a bowl, and a hat. All were extremely important for survival. I questioned the importance of the hat and Bauer said with a little ironic smile that the hat was most important. A prisoner needed to take his hat off during the routine morning and evening counts. Prisoners without hats were sent to the gas chambers.

I asked whether there were children in Auschwitz.

Professor Bauer: Children were in Auschwitz basically three times. There were Roma ("gypsy") families until they were sent to the gas chambers in 1943. Twice families from what is now the Czech Republic were kept for limited periods of time, in preparation for a potential Red Cross visit. But in the end the Nazis decided not to allow such visits and the families were sent to the gas chambers.
There were also special cases, such as twins that were kept alive for so-called medical experiments.

I asked why the allies did not bomb Auschwitz.

Professor Bauer: The allies did not bomb Auschwitz for various reasons. The French asked the allies to bomb prisons in which members of the underground were kept. The Supreme Military Headquarters, led by the Americans, decided in January 1944 that only military targets were legitimate targets. Auschwitz had no military significance. Thus they did not bomb Auschwitz. It was not a priority as it would not help to win the war.

Bauer maintained that until 1944 the allies did not have the air capacity to launch attacks as they did not have fighter airplanes to protect the bombers traveling long distances. But even when they had the military capacities, Auschwitz was not a priority.

The allies did not believe, or ignored, that Auschwitz was a death factory, although information was available, from the summer of 1942 on. Information about Treblinka came in 1943 but they thought that it was exaggerated, provided by the Polish underground to inflame hatred against the Nazis.

President Meir Shamgar

Always good to meet President Meir Shamgar. A tower of knowledge and decency,

President Shamgar is about to publish his autobiography. Knowing some chapters of his rich life, I am sure it will be fascinating.

Dr Yossi Beilin

I continue with my research about the failed peace process. While in Israel I conducted three important interviews including one with Yossi Beilin. Beilin shared with me fascinating insights about the Oslo peace process.

Great loss for Israeli politics that Beilin is no longer involved.

Mr Ziad AbuZayyad

At the charming American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem I met Abu Zayyad, a former minister in the Palestinian Authority government and adviser to Yassir Arafat. He provided a very useful perspective explaining the decision-making process in the PLO during the Oslo period. 

Mr Yossi Sarid

Sarid explained why he was not invited to Camp David. This has to do with the shortage of beds in Camp David. Hard to believe but true…

I will tell the story at some later point.

Thank You!

I had a wonderful and enriching trip to Israel. I am grateful to Yuval, Avi, Roei, Meir, Ori, Avi, Ofer, Yossi, Mira and Yizhar, Gila and Ruby for their friendship and kind hospitality.

Nagging Question

Did King Hussein assist Hamas in organizing terrorist attacks on Israel during the early 1990s? 

All information in this regard is welcome.

Tzuk Eitan Reports

Both Israel and the UN published their respective reports on the war between Israel and Hamas during the summer of 2014. You can read them at:

The UN Report:

The Governance of Religious Diversity. More or Less Secularism?

I was invited to participate in the above workshop at The European University Institute, Florence, Italy. It was a lot of fun. Small, multicultural group comprised of nice and thoughtful people discussing diversity, pluralism, culture and religion in the Middle East and in Asia. The workshop sparked many questions:

Is secularism an ideology?

Should human rights always triumph over group rights?

Is the discourse on multiculturalism in democracies different from similar discourse in nondemocratic countries?

Can we use the terms culture and religion interchangeably?

Should the French laïcité serve as a model for all countries? (French laïcité is an ideological concept of secularism).

A Lebanese scholar argued that Hezbollah has no interest to spark a war with Israel. Its troops are engaged in protecting Assad and his regime.

A Turkish scholar is not optimistic about reconciliation between the Kurds and the Turkish government.

The Chair of one of the sessions opened: I am about to give birth thus I might leave early. I was thinking this is probably the best reason I have ever heard to leave a meeting prematurely.

I was fortunate to be in the company of a very nice group of people. They inspired me to write the following:

13 June 2015

Why should you be destructive if you can be constructive
Why should you hate if you are capable to love
Why not leave the honour of your glorification to others
Why bother asking questions if you do not intend to listen
Why diminish when you can enlarge
Why stifle when you can facilitate
Why reject when you can be kind to accept
Why blame when you can praise

Kindness enriches others, and you.

I thank Anna Triandafyllidou, Bhikhu Parekh and Giuliana Mazzoni for their kind hospitality.

Pakistan Clerics Issue Fatwa Declaring Suicide Attacks ‘un-Islamic’

200 religious scholars in Pakistan have issued a fatwa terming suicide attacks as "un-Islamic" and said the Islamic governments are morally bound to crush rebel groups like the Taliban, ISIS and al-Qaeda.

By: Press Trust of India | Lahore | 

May 18, 2015
At least 200 religious scholars in Pakistan have issued a fatwa terming suicide attacks as “un-Islamic” and said the Islamic governments are bound to crush rebel groups like the Taliban, ISIS and al-Qaeda.

“Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and other such so-called Jihadi outfit’s philosophy is misleading. Their functioning is un-Islamic and thinking based on poor knowledge of Islam,” said the fatwa issued by clerics belonging to different Islamic sects after a conference held in Lahore on Sunday.

“The Jihad methodology of these outfits (are) against Islamic conditions for Jihad and that the elements involved in sectarian killings are guilty of ‘fasad’ (violence) as Islam does not allow any killing in the name of sect and the Islamic governments are bound to crush such rebels,” it said.

The fatwa also declared those opposing anti-polio drive and killing the women health workers as the “worst criminals”.

The Taliban are opposed to anti-polio drive and have killed scores of polio workers, including women.

The fatwa also said that attacks on worship places of the non-Muslims are the worst sins and heinous crimes while protection of non-Muslims is mandatory for an Islamic state.

The conference’s coordinator Mualana Ziaul Haq Naqshbandi said the clerics also decided to observe coming Friday (May 22) as ‘Peace and Love Day’ by delivering sermons in 400,000 mosques against unlawful killings and that an Ulema (clerics) board would also be established to counter the narrative of extremist and terrorist organizations like Taliban and ISIS.

“An Eradicate Terrorism and Save Country movement will also be launched,” he said.

The clerics from different schools of thoughts earlier had also issued a fatwa against suicide attacks but there has been no let up in them.

I thank Tariq Modood for bringing this to my attention.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt Gushed over Israeli High-tech

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt Gushed over Israeli High-tech and its innovation culture during a recent visit to the Weizmann Institute of Science. He said he is so impressed by the local startup arena that he invests in it. “The influence that Israelis have on science and technology is tremendous; that’s why I’m here, and that’s why I invest here,” he told a group of students and researchers at the university in Rehovot. Schmidt praised Israel’s ‘culture of entrepreneurship’ repeatedly during his visit here. He highlighted Israelis’ risk-taking and refusing to play by the rules as keys to success. “Israel is thriving in terms of innovation because you have a culture that makes it possible to question authority and to challenge everything – you don’t follow the rules,” he was quoted by Yediot Ahronot as saying at the Weizmann Institute. Schmidt brought executives of the investment firm he heads, Innovation Endeavors, to the Weizmann meeting. Innovation Endeavors is one of the most active investment funds in Israel, according to local reports. Schmidt asked the researchers to ‘think big’ and try to solve ‘global problems.’ "You have to make big bets. If you’re building something, try to solve problems for the entire world,” he said. “1.2 million people die each year in traffic accidents. Anything that can be done to reduce this number would be tremendous. In the coming years, many people will move to the big cities, and existing traffic infrastructures will not be sufficient.”

Help Promote Peace One Day

I was asked to promote Peace One Day and do it with pleasure. Can you spare a moment to send a tweet and an email to Google, please?

Dear Raphael,

I hope this finds you well.

As you know Peace One Day works to raise awareness of and encourage action on Peace Day, 21 September. The activities you organise, however big or small, raise awareness of the day. It’s our collective effort that makes this day a success.

We are always looking for new ways to spread the message of Peace Day. A trip to the Google offices in New York seven years ago with Peace One Day Ambassador, Jude Law, gave me an idea that I have never forgotten: a Peace Day Google Doodle. With hundreds of millions of daily visitors, getting to create a Peace Day Google Doodle on 21 September is one of the greatest things we can all do to inform the world’s people.

Awareness of Peace Day creates action, and that action saves lives. So getting the world’s most powerful search engine behind Peace Day will be a key moment for institutionalising the day in our homes, schools, workplaces and communities.

But we need your help. We need you to email Google (details below) asking them to mark Peace Day with a Google Doodle. By telling them your stories and why the day is important to you, we can encourage Google to take action for the day. For more information, visit:

Find out more about the Google Doodle campaign with this short film:

Here are three simple steps you can take to help: 
Email to ask for a Peace Day Google Doodle on 21 September. 
Tell others via social media that you have asked for a Peace Day Google Doodle and ask them to do the same. 
Tweet @GoogleDoodles to tell them about Peace Day, 21 September. 
We have created a range of resources including templates to help

By getting involved, you can be part of forging the next key milestone for the day – getting the world’s most powerful search engine behind Peace Day, 21 September.

Warm regards,

In peace

Jeremy Gilley 
Founder, Peace One Day

Workshop in Oñati

I was invited to a small workshop on Contemporary Issues in the Criminal Justice Systems: Comparative Perspective. This time I spoke about the section in my book that relates to fighting terrorism on the Internet. It was an interesting international group from France, Israel, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. We were hosted by the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, in the Basque country. I hope the workshop proceedings will be published by Hart sometime next year.
I am grateful to Sanaz Alasti and Malen Gordoa for the kind hospitality.

My New Article

“Internet Architecture, Freedom of Expression and Social Responsibility: Critical Realism and Proposals for a Better Future”

Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research (15 April 2015).
DOI: 10.1080/13511610.2015.1025042

Abstract: The article opens by explaining the architecture of the Internet. Given its present raison d'être, a free highway allowing maximum freedom, one may argue that the bounds of free expression are broader in scope on the Net compared with the bounds of legitimate speech allowed on other forms of communication. Contesting this assertion, it is argued that legally speaking, there is no difference between electronic communication and other forms of communication. I probe some problematic forms of expression: terrorism, criminal activity and cyberbullying, arguing that freedom of expression is important but so is social responsibility. The article concludes by offering a new paradigm Internet for the future called CleaNet ©. CleaNet © will be sensitive to prevailing cultural norms of each and every society and will be clean of content that the society deems to be dangerous and anti-social. No cyberbullying, child pornography, hateful bigotry, criminal activity and terrorist material will be available on the new Net. Netusers, with the cooperation of ISPs and web-hosting companies, will together decide which content will be considered illegitimate and unworthy to be excluded from CleaNet ©.

As always, I will be happy to send a copy to interested parties.

New Books: Babel in Zion - Winner of The Shapiro Prize for Best Book in Israel Studies, 2015

Liora Halperin, Babel in Zion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015)
Winner of The Shapiro Prize for Best Book in Israel Studies, 2015
 People tend to take what is in existence for granted. Most Israeli Sabras are not aware just how difficult it was to establish the language they use today as the hegemonic language of Israel. In this well-written, well-researched and thoughtful book Liora Halperin explains why Israelis speak Hebrew and not Yiddish, and how Hebrew emerged victorious in the battle over language in the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Babel where each group of immigrants fought to retain its own respective language.

In Babel in Zion, Halperin tells the story of how and why the Hebrew language was revived in Palestine and later adopted as the official language of Israel. The book incorporates historical narrative, personal stories, and analysis of the various forces that came into play. For many generations, Hebrew was used mostly in religious and scholarly contexts, but not in everyday life. In a lively and engaging prose, Halperin provides rich and sophisticated analyses of the battle for the Hebrew language in the Yishuv period. David Ben-Gurion said; “Without Hebrew labour, there will be no Jewish economy; without Hebrew labour, there will be no homeland” (p. 68).

Babel in Zion provides a fascinating look into the history of Zionism. With a sharp eye and attention to detail, Halperin probes and explains Zionist thought, ideological differences between various Zionist parties and movements, the conflict with the Arabs, and the need to establish one common language for immigrants who arrived from Europe and the Levant. The British decision-making processes were very important. The British decision to declare Hebrew an official language of Palestine gave legitimacy to the claim that Hebrew should be the dominant language for the Jews. The book also analyses the place of Arabic and English in the pre-state period.

Babel in Zion, published by Yale University Press, is an impressive book. While focusing on language, it uncovers the Zionist dealings with the Jewish communities, the Middle Eastern region, and the Western world at large. It shows the revolutionary vision of Zionism in creating a new people in a new-old state, and in establishing Hebrew as a bridge between past and present, between different communities as well as between religious and secular forces.

Twenty one books were submitted this year for the Shapiro Prize. The Shapiro Prize Committee unanimously chose Babel in Zion as the best book this year, and recommends all members of the Association of Israel Studies to make this book part of their scholarship. This is a story we need to tell to our students. This is a story we need to tell to our children.


Dr Lilach Rosenberg, Chair, Shapiro Book Prize Committee
Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor
Professor Zachi Shalom

Gem of the Month – Tel Aviv

Tel Avivian is a character. It is not only a place. I grew up in Tel Aviv and describe myself as an avowed Tel Avivian. I love this city. It is so ALIVE!

Glorious mornings in Tel Aviv in May, overlooking the most beautiful beach as it was waking to action.

Tel Aviv is a city that does not want to sleep. So much to do and enjoy, why sleep?

Ron Chuldai, mayor of Tel Aviv, continues to curve his name in golden letters as a major developer of this great city. Chuldai is visionary doer. The modern Herod. He puts dreams into reality. Ron Chuldai and Shlomo Lahat have transformed Tel Aviv into a vibrant, modern charming city.

I walk the city I grew up in and hardly recognize it. Sarona is the new IN place. This is where I courted my wife. Now it is a mix of old/new.

Gem of the Month - Bilbao
The Basque are patriotic. While I saw many places hanging the Basque flag proudly, I also saw only ONE Spanish flag. It seems that many people would be happy to secede from Spain. 

The proud identity is manifested in its cuisine. Many local restaurants. I saw two McDonalds, one Burger King and one KFC. No Starbucks.

The two main things in Bilbao are food and football. There are quite a few Michelin-starred restaurants, including one 3-Michelin-starred restaurant.

Multiculturalism seems to pass Bilbao by. Most of the people speak Spanish. At Oñati (a small town, one hour from Bilbao, where my workshop was held) I often heard Basque.
The city of Bilbao somehow looked empty. Large and long pavements with very few people during all hours of the day. I saw one park with very few people. Only the Old City was crowded and busy, filled with life. Either Bilbao was designed for a far larger population than what it has, or that many people left the city. I do not know. But there are long avenues and a long promenade near the river, and not many people to populate the areas. In the very large tourist information office, there were two tourists.

I visited the city a week prior to the final Spanish Cup between Bilbao and Barcelona. The city was covered with the Athletic Bilbao red and transparent flag. The flag was waved outside many buildings. The entire city was united with its club. Impressive unity.

Athletic Bilbao is known for its home players. The entire squad is comprised of Basque players, not easy to survive in the highest levels as the Basque Country is relatively small.

The weather reminded me of British weather. Not a great "glick."

The river area is beautiful, and so is the old city. The old port area, Getxo, is picturesque.

The Basque makes use of z and x far more than any other language I know. Exxcessive uzze.


I sat in a local bus in Hull. Next to me there were two women who met each other after not having seen each other for some time. They spoke of mutual acquaintances. The entire discussion was depressing. This guy left his wife. That woman ran away from her husband. These people are on drugs. Do you know Daryl and Darren? Yes, I do. You know they are both in jail. Yes, I heard. Five and eight years. 

What struck me was the casual way they discussed these issues. As if it was normal. Integral part of their life. Sad. 

       English Football - Exchange with Professor Wayne Sumner

       Wayne wrote from Toronto:

       Hi Rafi,

      A Premier League Best XI with no Arsenal players?  The club that finished third in the league and destroyed Aston Villa in the Cup Final?  No Alexis Sanchez?  No Santi Cazorla?  No Mesut Ozil?  Has your Spurs loyalty blinded you to the talent in the other North London Club?



  Hi Wayne

   Thank you for reflecting on this most important issue. Fun to discuss football for a change rather than euthanasia and/or hate speech…

 Any team selection will do injustice to some excellent players. I have nothing against any team, Arsenal included. True. I am biased. But not against teams; rather for one particular team, which explains the debatable inclusion of Vertonghen.

  Ozil had an average season. Most average. Possibly the weakest in his career. He was not a candidate.

  Cazorla had a very good season. You have a fair point here. The problem, however, if he gets in who will be left out. Yaya Touré ? Can't do that. His influence on the game is far greater.  Silva ? He is more talented than Cazorla.  Hazard ? Possibly the BEST player in the League this season. Coutinho had a great season, taking upon himself both midfield and attacking assignments as Gerard was fading away.

  Your best observation is with regard to Sanchez. What a wonderful player. He has been the best Arsenal player this year. A joy to watch. One level above all players. However, yet again, once I opted for 4-4-2 formation, the main deciding criterion is number of goals. Agüero has 26. Costa 20. Sanchez 16. 

  Some Spurs fans attacked me for not including Harry Kane who had a terrific season, scoring 21 goals, one goal more than Costa. But Costa brought the Championship while Kane brought nothing.

  Imagine how many goals Kane can score if he would have Hazard at his service…

  Very best

   Hi Rafi,

  Football is also more fun to debate than Middle East politics.

  Some replies:

  Ozil had a far better season than you contend; his vision and passing were instrumental in making Arsenal's midfield purr the way it did in the Cup Final.  But I won't make a case for him displacing any of your preferred midfielders.

  Cazorla is a different matter.  You say that Toure's influence on the game is greater?  How exactly is that measured for this past season?  True, he scored more goals than Cazorla (10 v. 7).  But Cazorla was second in the league (to Fabregas) in assists with 11.  Toure's assist total?  Exactly 1.  Isn't playmaking part of the job description for a midfielder?  Plus, Toure faded badly in the second half of the season, to the point where it was being widely assumed that he was finished at City.  So: Cazorla over Toure for one of the midfield spots.

  Likewise Coutinho (5 goals, 5 assists).  By what measure was his year better than Cazorla's?

  Finally, Silva.  Again, by what measure is he "more talented" than Cazorla?  He scored more goals (12 v. 7) but had fewer assists (7 v. 11).  The two players were directly involved in just about exactly the same number of goals for their clubs.  I admire Silva and would not want to argue that he should be replaced by Cazorla.  Ditto Hazard.  But either Toure or Coutinho should be.  

  Then Sanchez.  True, it is harder to find a place for him if you insist on playing 4-4-2.  But again you have to look beyond goals to assists (which, after all, help a club just as much).  No argument about Aguero (26 goals, 8 assists).  But Sanchez (16 goals, 8 assists) now looks better than Costa (20, 3).  He is also much more involved in the play all over the pitch than Costa, who is primarily a poacher in the box.   

  So I conclude that you should have found a place for at least two Arsenal players.  I won't even ask how you could have preferred Vertonghen to Mertesacker or Koscielny (or to Cahill, for that matter) when the Spurs' defence allowed more goals than any other club in the top 13.  

 Just sayin'.



  Hi Wayne

  You make excellent points. Thank you.

  I did not know you follow English football so religiously from Canada. I am pleased to know that (1) English football features in Canadian broadcasts (or you see it on the Internet?), and (2) that you are an avid supporter of English football.

  Upon reflection, I should have preferred a 4-3-3 formation, accommodating Sanchez and dropping probably Coutinho. Toure is too good not to be included. City plays so much better when he is fit.

  I never said that Vertonghen is better than Mertesacker. Quite the opposite. I openly admitted my Spurs bias. I was unable to pick a team with no representation for Spurs. Sorry. Each person with his own biases. I mean, this is arguably the main achievement of Spurs this year, to have one of its players on my team!

  Very best


   Hi Rafi,

   I've been an Arsenal supporter since 1978, when an English friend took me to a match at Highbury (the Gunners beat West Brom 4-1).  Had he taken me to transparent Hart Lane instead, I would probably be a Spurs fan today.

  But my following of Arsenal and the Premiership only became obsessive over the past ten years when so many of the matches began to be shown over here.  On a typical weekend I will have the choice of 8-10 matches to watch, nearly always Arsenal.  Obviously, I have way too much time on my hands!

  All the best,


  Hi Wayne

  What a colossal mistake your friend had made. Real pity.

  Enjoy the time you have in your hands. I return to grading papers…

  Best wishes


   So here is my amended team:

  Goal Keeper:

  David de Gea (Manchester United and Spain)


   Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea and Serbia)

  Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham and Belgium)

   John Terry (Chelsea and England)

  Leighton Baines (Everton and England)


  Yaya Touré (Manchester City, Ivory Coast)

  David Silva (Manchester City and Spain)

  Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)


  Sergio Leonel "Kun" Agüero del Castillo (Manchester City and Argentina)

  Diego Costa (Chelsea and Spain)

  Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal and Chile)

Monthly Poems

Getting Lost in the Streets of Florence
13 June 2015

Getting lost in the streets of Florence
Embrace the beauty
Enthralling Magic
Captivating sounds and smells
As summer of June makes it all blossom
Trees, flowers, tourists, 
Those who are fortunate to live here.

Getting lost in the streets of Florence 
Why should I mind?
Lost in Florence leads to heaven
Not to hell
nor to Hull
Baltimore (Bill calls it Baltichor)
Or Beer Sheva

Getting lost in the streets of Florence
Reflections of lights in the Arno
Turquoise and yellow
Capable guitarists and rock singers entertain small crowds
Artists caricature your face in complete silence
Smell of fresh ice cream waffle in the making
Sweetly settles in nostrils 

Getting lost in the streets of Florence 
Liberating fun adventure
With David, and Michael, and Raphael
Each window is different in essence
Any door opens you to another world
When the west was formulated
When culture was anything but a pub

13 June 2015

Just think
If the frescos, statutes, pictures and churches
Were all to depict
Jesus as a fat man
What would have been 
The ideal of beauty
How liberating to men and women
Short but fulfilling life
Wider seats in theatre and planes
Grass left to rabbit and sheep 
Bones well hidden in fashion shows
Rubens Angels on earth

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

My Children’s Favourite Statement

during the past year or so has been: “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get”. Forrest Gump.

Light Side

An Internet expert predicts that in the future, Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook will merge to create one super time-wasting site called YouTwitFace.

Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


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