Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Politics – November 2015

Support is sought to facilitate the work of the Middle East Study Group. Information at http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/mestudygroup/informationfordonors.aspx

Peace should be Israel’s strategy.

If peace is not achieved, Israel is doomed to experience cycle upon cycle of violence.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

More violence. More blood. No leadership. On November 22, 2015, Hadar Buchris, 21, was murdered. She was the 22nd victim in this wave of terror attacks that has swept Israel during the past two months. 192 other people were injured in the stabbings, shootings, and car runovers at innocent bystanders.

More hatred. Polarization. The radicals are dictating the agenda. Sad.

Terror in Paris. In Nigeria. In Turkey. In Mali. Not to mention Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen. The usual suspects. ISIS means business. As a realist I know that we must fight them with determination and little hesitation. As a peacenik, I am saddened that there is no way to reach their minds and hearts.

ISIS reminds me of the Crusaders. That bloody barbaric period lasted 200 years. Their reign fell in the 16th century with the rise of the Reformation and the corresponding decline of papal authority.

Twenty years after Rabin’s assassination. We all remember where we were when we heard the tragic news. Similar to the JFK assassination in the USA. Bill Clinton came and warmed hearts as he does well. Words. Words. The reality is now shaped by deeds, and these are bloody. Gore. Pain. Sadness.

The November 9, 2015 meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu is reported to have been “good”. After Iran, Israel and the USA are back to normal business. Both leaders were careful not to raise controversial and contentious issues, concentrating attention on what the two states have in common rather on what divides them.

Speaking following the Washington talks, Obama suggested a new US military aid agreement could be in the cards to bolster Israel’s security: “The military assistance that we provide, we consider it not only an important part of our obligation to the security of the State of Israel, but also an important part of US security infrastructure in the region as we make sure that one of our closest allies can not only protect itself but can also work with us in deterring terrorism and other security threats.” Obama condemned Palestinian violence in the region and said he was interested in hearing Netanyahu’s thoughts on lowering Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed his government’s commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict, which has seen at least 73 Palestinians and 12 Israelis killed since October 1, 2015. Netanyahu told the press US-Israeli relations were strong and thanked Obama for his commitment to Israel’s security.

I continue to travel the world, celebrating and presenting my new book, Confronting the Internet's Dark Side -- Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway.

Sources: Haaretz, Euronews

Reflections on October Newsletter
In Memory - Yitzhak Navon (1921-2015)
Israel’s Endgame
Warsaw - Reflections
Boris Johnson’s Visit to Tel Aviv
Academic Freedom
Cyber Psychology - A Virtual Roundtable
My Interview to Tertio, Belgium
My New Article
New Books
Book Review
Novel - The Thorn Birds
Gem of the Month - Chopin Competition in Warsaw 
Gem of the Month - Walking Tour of Jewish Warsaw
My Visit to Israel
Monthly Poems


Light Side

Reflections on October Newsletter

Dr Valerie Alia wrote from Canada:

Hello, Rafi,

Just a brief comment on​ your item about Israeli oil. There is far more at stake than Israel's flora and fauna. You mention environmentalists, but leave out the global concern that cannot be ignored. I recommend reading Naomi Klein on this, particularly her most recent book, This Changes Everything. Instead of trying to develop and market oil, Israel could develop and market alternative sources of energy that don't contribute to climate change. It's not a peripheral issue, as people sometimes imply. It's not a lesser politics. It is intricately connected to the future of the planet, and ultimately, to every other political decision. It's no surprise that a U.S. company wants to encourage Afek. Oil companies and oil consumers are doing badly these days--for good reason. The smart ones are investing in less damaging ways to heat, cool, and fuel our world.

Best wishes,

In Memory - Yitzhak Navon (1921-2015)

I was saddened to hear about the death of former Israeli President Yitzhak Navon. Navon was one of the nicest people in Israeli politics, a person whom I appreciated and very much liked.

In the early 1980 I was active in the Labour Party. The branch in Tel Aviv, led by MK Eliyahu Shpeizer, was strong and powerful. After the Likud victory of the 1981 elections, it dawned on some of the activists that the Likud is a strong party, and that its victory in 1977 was not a one-off event. It is here to stay, unless significant changes are to be made. Change should start from the top.

Begin’s government was unstable. It was an era of war (Lebanon), troubled economy with high inflation and high unemployment, and a heated ethnic schism between Middle Easterners and Ashkenazim that engulfed Israeli society. A group of activists in Tel Aviv decided to challenge Peres's leadership. All the polls showed that the Likud was most likely to win the elections. Peres had no intention of stepping down from the Labour leadership.

In 1983, Menachem Begin decided to step down and Yitzhak Shamir succeeded him in the prime minister's office. The polls continued to show that Likud was still likely to win the coming elections, and Peres continued to believe in his ability to win the elections despite all odds.

The group of Labour activists, quite naively, decided to approach Israeli President Yitzhak Navon who was about to complete his term in the President's office and re-join Labour, to challenge Peres. The group thought that in the Labour internal elections, Navon had a good chance to win. Many people in Labour yearned for change and we thought that the very popular president, Yitzhak Navon, who always worked tirelessly to bridge gaps in society, could win the internal and also the national elections.

I said "naively", because at that time I had never met Navon and was not familiar with his qualities and deficiencies. If I were to meet him, I would know that it was quite unlikely for Navon to challenge Peres. Navon lacked the zeal for politics that Peres has in abundance. At that time, Navon was not ready to spoil his relationship with Peres. Moreover, Navon who served as personal secretary to Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion could not imagine himself in the giant’s shoes. The word “giant” is the word Navon used to express his admiration to his political mentor. Years later, Navon told me that he thought the role was too big for him. It was not difficult for Peres to dissuade Navon from running against him.

Navon and Peres remained in contact until Navon’s last day although Navon backed Rabin later on, during the 1990s. I think Peres appreciated the fact that Navon decided not to challenge his leadership. Peres made Navon his no. 2 and Rabin was demoted to the third place on the Labour list. Navon served as Deputy Prime Minister in the Likud-Labour unity government until 1990, when Labour decided to break the alliance. Navon wanted also to be Foreign Minister, and this was the role Peres had promised him. But coalition considerations necessitated giving this portfolio to Likud (Yitzhak Shamir) and Navon served as Minister of Education. He was a caring and industrious minister.

Navon was warm and pleasant, a people’s person. He loved music and poetry, literature and theatre, good food and good company. The first thing that comes to my mind when I come to describe him is the sentence
דרכיו דרכי נעם
His ways are ways of pleasantness.

Unlike many politicians, the last thing you would say about Yitzhak is that he was a devious person. Yitzhak was anything but devious. He was candid and nice. He did not believe in trickery. He was a good listener and a diplomat. He was known to maintain good relations with people of all walks of life, of different ideological persuasions, and of different camps. He maintained good relations with Peres, was appreciated by Rabin, and was a close friend of Gad Yaakobi. Now, this is quite something to be able to do all this!! Gad loved him dearly and appreciated his qualities. Navon’s relations with the Likud ministers and with Menachem Begin when Navon served as president were good. They all appreciated his personal qualities.

Parenthetically, I should note that the 21st Government (1984-1986) included some extraordinary characters and unusual politicians; leaders with dignity and integrity whose hearts and mouths were identical: Yitzhak Navon, Gad Yaakobi, Haim Bar-Lev and Amnon Rubinstein.

Between 1995 and 1999 I decided to edit books that would give a voice to the mainstream of Israeli society. There was a surge in post (anti)-Zionist literature and I felt that I should take upon myself the role of balancing the anti-Israeli vitriol. The results of my project were three edited volumes: Basic Issues in Israeli Democracy (Sugiot Yesod Bademokratia Ha’Yisraelit) (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1999) (Hebrew); Israeli Democracy at the Crossroads, and Israeli Institutions at the Crossroads (both London: Routledge, 2005). The latter volume is quite unusual in the academic circles as it includes chapters written by decision-makers. I asked Yitzhak to write the chapter about the presidency, and he obliged.

Yitzhak - kind, pleasant, wonderful and navon (wise) - wrote quite a personal chapter, as I wished. I want to quote some excerpts from his wonderful contribution to this volume:

On the eve of my election to Presidency (1978), Israel inhabited 3,500,000 Jews and nearly 600,000 non-Jewish residents: Muslims (mostly), Christians and Druzes, alongside several smaller minorities...  A basic question is how these communities live in friendship and understanding surrounded by Arab countries while there is an armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
I have given much thought as to how the president can bridge over this rift; how can a Muslim Arab be a loyal citizen of the Jewish State and still express his identification with the Palestinian People?  A way must be found to allow him that, as long as he breaks no law.  An interesting fact is that throughout the years of Palestinian terrorism, the Israeli Arabs were not dragged into violence, except on very isolated cases.  As president, I spoke with them frankly about their dilemma and about the way in which they can express their sympathy towards their people, and yet refrain from taking the road of terror and law breaking.  It pleased me to be able to express these opinions in the Arabic language, which I command.  Knowing their language and culture, I felt I could speak candidly on radio and television broadcasts, and through scores of actual gatherings and dialogues.
It was customary for years that on a Muslim or a Druze holiday, their representatives would come to the president’s house to receive his greetings.  I have changed this custom and presented myself to them, went to their communities, bringing them the blessing of the State in their language.  To these meetings at the court of a mosque, or a schoolyard, or a sporting field came many thousands and none have asked what my authorities were.  They saw in me a symbol of the entire State, coming to bless them on their holiday. To give such a feeling of affiliation to the state, despite the different origin and despite the conflict requires no authority; it requires a symbol. Frequent visits to Arab towns and villages gave much publicity to their unique problems and to the views I expressed about the need for peace and co-existence, the aspiration for peace with our neighbors and a demand from the government to bridge the economic gap between Jews and Arabs is Israel.
I have conducted open dialogues with school pupils who spoke candidly about their problems and feelings as a minority living in Israel. These visits offered an opportunity for relief and comfort as the citizens knew that their opinion has been made public and that their grievances were expressed. The president will not solve their problems, but he listens, he is a conduit to exposure, and he can urge the executive branch to fix what needs to be fixed. Occasionally a small gesture can produce a fitting positive response. I recall that when Jordan allowed Israeli Arabs to pass through it on their pilgrimage to Mecca, I have broadcasted them on the television and the radio a short blessing for a successful journey and a pure reverence. I was told that the clients of an Arab café who were watching television there stood up, applauded and loudly called: hail the president! What powers are required to make such a gesture and receive such response?
Aside from the Arab issue, the Jewish society is charged with internal problems that seek appropriate solution. The Jewish populace is composed primarily from immigrants who came to Israel from 102 countries speaking 81 languages. Different mentality, distinct and gapping concepts, widely varying views about any issue: political, cultural, linguistic, customary, familial, religious, and so on. They are all united by their common distant past  - expressed by the bible since Abraham the patriarch, Moses and the exodus from Egypt, the granting of the Torah on Mount Sinai, King David and his heirs, the struggle against the Greek, and later – against the Roman conquerors - all these and others are shared by all immigrants. Whether they come from Yemen, Romania, Argentina, Morocco or the United States, they are united by the aspiration to liberty and to living in an independent Jewish state. But they are separated by 2000 years, during which they were dispersed to the wings of the earth. How can they be consolidated into one people? How do you provide them with a sense of belonging to the state? How do you make them feel at home? Here too the main key lies in the hands of the president; he can meet with all groups of immigrants, make them speak their mind, listen to them and plant within them the feeling that they are welcome and are equal to all other citizens, irrespective of their different background. It is in the president’s hands to do much in the mental-emotional aspect, which is no less important than material aspects such as housing, education and making a living. He needs no powers to do that. It suffices that he represents the state and the unity of the people.
The Israeli society is an anthropologist’s dream coming true. The special legacy of every tribe and ethnicity or group should be nurtured and respected, while seeking and emphasizing the mutual aspects and the ancient cultural tradition. A politician, who is driven by political interests, will find this mission too complex. Only a figure such as the president, with no personal or political interests, can exert an influence in the desired direction. He should give proper outing to the grievances of the citizens and their needs and urge the executive branch to solve the problems of these citizens.
During my term as president, the presidential residence was visited by some 5000 people a month, with whom I conducted dialogues. Annually, this amounts to 60,000 people, and over the entire term it is 300,000 people. What were they looking for? Why did they come? Why are they troubling themselves to meet a man devoid of authorities? What are they asking and what can they receive - a job? An apartment? A loan? A grant? Connections? None of the above. They come to air their grievances, to receive support, inspiration and hope. Everything within the mental-emotional realm; nothing within the material and practical one. They speak to the entire state through the man who represents it. Whoever seeks powers should be looking for them elsewhere. The president serves as a wailing wall of sorts, but one that responds to prayers.
In all my years in office, I did not find a community or group which did not feel underprivileged or misrepresented by the media. The president has had to thoroughly examine their problems, to dive into their culture and to elicit pearls to be displayed so everyone can see them. To encourage, to plant hopes, to show respect. Sincere, no mere lip service, but out of conviction and genuine study into the real essence and the background of his visitors. Every new immigrant feels like a foreigner in his new land, speaks none of the language spoken there and knows nothing about the state’s institutions or the customs of its veteran citizens. The immigrants need moral encouragement and not just material aid, so they come to the president. He must also battle against the stereotypes of one group of immigrants against another. Ridiculing jokes and sectarian or ethnic teasing are a common phenomenon and not everyone is immune against it. But the president does not merely stay in his residence and waits to meet all these people; he goes out to see them in the places they live or in their places of gathering.
I felt obliged to visit the neighborhoods and suburbs of the big cities, remote villages along the borders, and places that are far from any hub.  It is a pleasant and lasting experience to become acquainted with people and places, to feel their happiness, to sympathize with their pain, and to be captivated by the complex and amazing human mosaic of people who came from over a hundred countries.  Holocaust survivors, who returned from hell; people who left poor and backward countries alongside people who left the most developed and advanced countries of the world;  religious and secular; rich and poor; left and right.  I felt it was my duty to strive and seek common values to unite one with the other, as much as possible.
In meetings with pupils from the weaker classes I invested much effort in order to give them high expectations, hoping they can live up to those expectations, and aspire for achievements, and to plant faith in their abilities to reach high.  In my visits to remote towns and villages I made a habit of staying over night rather than settling for a brief visit.   This has enabled me to conduct lengthy dialogues not only with local leaders, but also with individuals from different circles, and particularly with youths.
To test the effect of my visits to towns and suburbs, and to know what basis my expectations have, I have requested, for the sake of experiment, from the institute of communication in the Hebrew University to examine one prominent event.  I planned a visit to a neighborhood that was then the most notorious in Israel, the “Hatikvah” neighborhood.  It was synonymous with criminality, drugs, army desertion, poverty, etc.  The visit lasted 3 days, during which I visited the market and the shops, all schools, the laundry club, women’s NAAMAT club, the enrichment library, the old age home.  I met with the founders and veterans of the neighborhood, young couples, artists and writers, social workers, rabbis and political activists.  One night I slept over at the house of a Jew from Syria who was once involved in illegal immigration.  At that night the residents gave me a very rare and moving surprise.  Close to midnight I went with my companions to the streets to meet gangs, but instead my companions gave me an incredible surprise: on a balcony of one of the houses, a stage was set up, with singers and musicians, and an audience of thousands welcomed me, singing and chanting. The surprise party lasted for several hours.  That was how the inhabitants of the neighborhood expressed their gratitude for the president who took the trouble to visit them for three days…
A loyal partner of the president in his actions is his wife. Offira, my wife, joined me in my visits to Egypt and to the United States, but also, and of no less importance, she accompanied me to “Hatikvah” neighborhood and to a few other places and events. Alongside, she developed her own fields of activity. When we entered the president’s residence, we brought our children with us – Na’ama, who was 5 years old, and Erez, who was 4 years old. They added a lot of color, perkiness and joy, and posed an attraction to photographers.
Yitzhak loved Ofira, the woman of his life who died prematurely in 1993 after succumbing to cancer, until his last day. Her photo was on his desk.

The last time I met Yitzhak was in May 2013. I came to visit him at his home in Jerusalem. As he was just discharged from hospital, I brought him flowers and a copy of my poetry book. Navon loved poetry and asked for a copy of my book which I was delighted to dedicate to him. We spoke about Israeli politics, the 1948 war, and prospects for peace. We agreed that these were slim. On the table were the proofs of Navon’s autobiography, All the Way, which was published recently (in Hebrew), http://www.booknet.co.il/prodtxt.asp?id=86488#.Vj3trvnhC70
For many years, the humble Navon was reluctant to write an autobiography and it needed some persistence of his friends to make him do it. Our last discussion was in 2014, on the phone.  Yitzhak did not sound well and I finished the conversation quickly, not to impose on him.

In January 2016 I plan to be in Jerusalem. This time I won’t see him.

Yitzhak Navon touched the hearts of many with his warmth and humanity. His memory will reside in our hearts forever.

Israel’s Endgame

People ask me: What does Netanyahu want? What is his vision for Israel’s future?

Netanyahu said clearly: We must be strong. We must continue to fight. We need to continue living by the sword. His message to the Israeli public is: Be strong and endure. The horizons do not include peace and tranquility.

It is a very gloomy, depressing message.

Netanyahu is not alone in this thinking. As some of you know, for the past few years I have been writing a book on the failed peace process, from 1993 onward. The book is largely based on interviews with decision-makers and peace negotiators. I heard this message, “Be Strong and Endure” from other Israeli politicians. The children of Israel and Palestine deserve a better future.

The tragedy is that the same, exact message is being conveyed by the Palestinian leaders to their people.

The unavoidable result: more blood. More fighting. More violence. There is no hope for peace in the near future. People who think that there can be peace now are deluding themselves. Not with this thinking. Not with this message. Not with these leaders.

Warsaw - Reflections

I was invited to present part of my research on just and unjust wars at a conference in Warsaw. The keynote Lecture was delivered by Michael Walzer. This was the prime reason that motivated me to travel to Warsaw.

Walzer argued that we should not be timid regarding religious extremism. We should protect our own values. He recommended engaging with Islamic texts. ISIS resorts to Islamic texts and we need to refute them with their own tools. We should fight ISIS ideas by resorting to Islamic texts.

Walzer conclusively argued that wars to bring democracies to people are unjust. The American troops bringing democracy to Iraq was a wrong military campaign. Death and destruction are more likely than democracy.

No fly zones in Iraq were justified. Acts short of wars should be resorted to before rushing to open war. No fly zones prevented massacres in Kurdistan. Economic sanctions can be hurtful to civilian population. Smart sanctions can be used to undermine the regime and not to seriously affect the population, civilians. Walzer would like to see more discussions about such conduct that is short of war.

In the conference I heard a lecture from a young scholar who justified resorting to terrorism. The two Israelis in the audience, Danny Statman of Haifa University and I, were horrified by the proposition. We said it is like justifying rape, or paedophilia. I maintained that the very proposition confers legitimacy on a gory practice that should be condemned without reservations.


Warsaw is dotted with monuments. Many of them are dedicated to WWII. Lots of memories, many of violence and blood. A city full of history that you need to imagine as 85% of the city was destroyed by the Nazis. A painful journey in history.

Mila 18

A simple stone on a small hill. Some writing. At the heart of a neighborhood. So simple. So uninspiring. Still, I was shivering. Here, at this spot, hundreds of people waged a tremendous fight, against all odds, knowing full well that they will die. Almost a month they stood against the might of the German army, the most advanced, most powerful army in the world at that time. Countries had fallen in less time.


Another memorial that almost brought me to my knees. I was thinking of the Everests of suffering, of helplessness, of agony. I was thinking of the human tragedies, of impossible choices, of brutality. A point of departure. From humanity.

Organ Concert

The conference organisers arranged for us a private organ concert at one of the main churches. We climbed to the organ chamber at the top of the church and sat around the organ. What a treat it was. He chose for us wonderful pieces of music and ably preformed them. I did not know that the organ is a far more complex instrument than the piano. Four sets of keyboards, three for the hands, one for the legs, plus dozens of push buttons (stops) at both sides of the keyboards. The organist moved around quickly on his seat. At the end I facetiously asked him whether organ music was written for an octopus. I felt he could do with more limbs to operate. For a human, though, he was great ! 

Warsaw Train station

I joined a line of some fifty people to buy my train tickets. Many cashier points. Two of them occupied. And if this is not bad enough, every once in a while one of the cashiers disappeared for a few minutes. No one in this long line protested and asked to open more cashier points. If I were to wait for my turn I would have missed my train, and my meeting. I asked politely to come to the head of the line, explaining that otherwise I would miss my train. All people in the line agreed and I was able to make it on time.

The cashier did not speak English. I did, of course. I spoke in English. She nodded and provided an explanation in fluent Polish. I said thank you, I do not speak Polish. She proceeded in fluent Polish. Somehow, I managed to buy one way ticket. The lady did not understand the words "return tickets". At least the line at Lodz was shorter....


My train cabin consisted of two rows of seats numbered in the following way: 11, 12, 13, 18, 17, 14, 15, 16. I am sure there is a reason for this...

Train conversation

On the train I met a man. He is from Toronto. His wife has a business in Warsaw. Originally from Iran, he came to Canada as an immigrant in 1986. It took him five years until he was allowed to leave Iran, after bribing some officials. He had to leave all his property behind. I asked him whether he returned to Iran. He said once. He returned in order to try and retrieve some of his property. The legal battle resulted in nothing. The judge told him quite frankly, your property is now owned by the state. The man asked for five percent of what used to be his property. The judge answered: why should we give you? Now we have one hundred percent. Why should we have only 95? We are quite happy to have all your property. Enjoy your life in Canada. It took him five months to return to Toronto. He was held by the authorities until they were satisfied he gave up. He has no intention to return to Iran as he thinks he will be stranded again.

The man has family in Bat Yam. He is Jewish. He has never been to Israel although he very much liked to go. He fears that the Iranian authorities might find out about his visit and harm him in one way or another. He still has hopes that one day he will be able to retrieve some of his property. Dreams.


I recommend Pijalnie Czekolady, especially their cafe latte with bittersweet chocolate and rose petals. Lovely and heavenly. Well, I love roses in all shapes, forms and tastes.

The brownie is excellent, almost as good as my son's Roei Epic Brownie.

I thank Michał Seweryński, Adam Cebula, Malgorzata Niedzwiecka-Malecka, Magdalena Plotka and Joanna Podolska-Plocka for their kind hospitality.


I recently met a Palestinian whose dream is to return to his family home in Rosh Ha'ayin. He does not lose hope. Dreams.

Dreams can be great motivators to action. Sometimes they can be harmful as well; harmful both to the dreamer as well as to others. This depends what means dreamers choose to realise them.

Boris Johnson’s Visit to Tel Aviv

London Mayor Boris Johnson is one of the colourful personalities in British politics. Mr Johnson visited Israel on a trade mission to boost business and technology partnerships. He said: “Both London and Tel Aviv share the values of innovation and tolerance, and it is no surprise that so many tech startups choose Tel Aviv as their home. We look forward to working together to enhance both of our tech communities”.

Johnson was accompanied by 15 London tech firm representatives on his three-day tour, and got to ring the opening bell at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. At the Google Campus in Tel Aviv – a lively hub for entrepreneurs – Johnson outfitted himself with Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles and barked at journalists as he demonstrated dog simulation. He scooted around the streets of Tel Aviv on an Inu, a foldable two-wheeled electric and battery-operated scooter made by Haifa company Green Ride. Johnson joined Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai for a bike ride – on the city’s rentable Tel-O-Fun bikes — along Rothschild Boulevard, the city’s most famous startup thoroughfare. Johnson certainly enjoyed his time in the fun city of Tel Aviv.

Johnson said a trade embargo on Israel would be “completely crazy” and noted that only “corduroy-jacketed, snaggletoothed, lefty academics” in the UK support such a notion. “London is the natural tech partner for Israeli firms looking to expand,” Johnson declared. “With access to a world-class talent pool and a booming digital economy, it is no surprise that Israeli tech companies are making London their home and choosing the London Stock Exchange as their international market for expansion.”

Academic Freedom

A lecture at the University of Minnesota Law School on November 3, 2015, by renowned Israeli scholar Moshe Halbertal was marred when anti-Israel protesters repeatedly shouted down his remarks. The protesters delayed the lecture by half an hour with repeated shouts and interruptions from the audience, before continuing to chant outside the room in which the event was held, making it difficult for Halbertal to be heard.

Halbertal, a professor at both New York University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was scheduled to give a presentation on the ethics of war as part of the John Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law, an annual law school event. Halbertal helped write the Israel Defense Forces’ code of ethics, though the prepared topic of his lecture, “Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare,” was not specifically on the subject of Israel.

The protests were endorsed by the campus branch of Students for Justice in Palestine and was organized by the Minnesota Anti-War Committee, who tweeted before the event asking followers to “help shut down” Halbertal’s lecture. An article by Anti-War Committee spokesperson Meredith Aby-Keirstead in FightBack!, a local radical paper that has previously expressed support for the convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh, indicated that their intention was to prevent Halbertal from being heard. “Before the moderator got three words out, the first interruption came,” Aby-Keirstead bragged, adding that “speakers rose from the audience, one after another, making it impossible for Halbertal’s talk to proceed.” The protesters systematically stood up one by one and yelled pro-Palestinian slogans, only for another to start up chanting again when someone was removed from the hall by university police. Protesters even interrupted law school staff explaining the rules of decorum for the event. The police were eventually forced to lock the doors to prevent more protesters. Three protesters were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and trespassing before being released.

Protesters referred to Halbertal, who argued that soldiers should bear increased risks to decrease the risks to civilians in combat, as a “baby-killer.” One of the protesters’ chants was “from sea to sea, Palestine will be free”—a reference to the creation of a Palestinian state across the entire area.

“It was evident from the very start that they had no interest in anything he had to say,” sophomore Sami Rahamim, who also attended the event and is the president of the campus advocacy group Students Supporting Israel, told The Tower. “They were just there to yell and scream these chants that don’t do anything to bring the conversation closer to peace, to bring the two sides closer together. It’s a complete rejection of free speech.”
“It’s been pretty contentious all year with Students for Justice in Palestine,” he added. “They promote a campus environment where no one should feel threatened or harassed, and all these platitudes about free speech for everyone, but clearly that only applies to people who agree with them.”

Dale Carpenter, a University of Minnesota professor who recounted the event for The Washington Poststated that “The freedom to present a lecture is threatened in this way at a public university is appalling, calling not only for punishment of violations but for a clear statement by university officials defending the free exchange of ideas.”

David Wippman, dean of the law school, issued a statement addressing the incident:
Yesterday, the Law School hosted Professor Moshe Halbertal, a well known, widely respected expert on ethics and the law of war, for the annual Dewey Lecture on law and philosophy. Unfortunately, the start of Professor Halbertal’s lecture was delayed for over 30 minutes by protesters shouting slogans and denouncing the Law School for inviting a speaker whose views they chose to caricature but not to hear. While it is regrettable that the protesters (none, I believe, from the Law School) chose to deny themselves the opportunity to engage and learn from a speaker of Halbertal’s distinction, it is unacceptable that they should seek to deny other students and community members their own opportunity to hear an invited guest speak. Values of free speech and academic freedom are central to the University’s mission; we disregard them at our peril.

The protesters were eventually removed from the building by campus police, who handled the situation with great professionalism and restraint. After the lecture concluded, audience members, including some quite critical of Israel, had an opportunity to ask questions and engage Professor Halbertal in discussion. Ironically, the central theme of Professor Halbertal’s talk was that the military should be prepared to accept greater risks to its own forces in order to enhance protections for civilian non-combatants, not something one would expect to generate much protest.

But whether a speaker’s views are controversial is beside the point. As members of a University community, we should welcome—indeed, insist—on hearing a wide range of viewpoints, and we should condemn any efforts to silence free speech through protests of the sort that took place at the Law School yesterday. The Law School will continue to do both.

Cyber Psychology - A Virtual Roundtable

In the first of a six-part series, four Cambridge authors answer our questions about cyber psychology and the uncertain future of the digital age. The digital shift has affected expectations about everything from cost to response time.

Patricia Wallace, the author of The Psychology of The Internet
John Suler, the author of The Psychology of the Digital Age
Kent Norman, the author of Cyberpsychology
Raphael Cohen-Almagor, the author of Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side

What roles do digital mainstream media play in amplifying cyberpsychology issues? Do you see this as a positive or negative thing?
Patricia Wallace: When the mainstream media began “going digital” and offering their content online, they opened up an entirely new set of challenges that the media moguls were unprepared to face. At first they offered free content to attract an audience, but the momentum to consume media online gathered steam, to the point that people began dropping their print newspaper subscriptions and bypassing the evening news shows. The Internet bulldozed their revenue models, which relied heavily on print and TV ads. While they added advertising to their online sites, that revenue couldn’t begin to close the gap, especially with widespread use of ad blockers. Layoffs and closings followed swiftly, along with many attempts to create new business models.

As something that seems to have escaped from the lab, cyberspace might do us harm, but might it also miraculously solve our problems?

These industry battles lead to subtle effects on cyberpsychology. For example, thanks to the Internet’s early cultural traditions, people expect online content to be free. We resist any attempt to charge for access, and find clever back doors. But outstanding content is expensive. The mainstream media struggle to produce it, testing all kinds of new revenue models. Some become threats to privacy, as people willingly give up much valuable personal information to continue accessing the content they wanted for “free.”

Another outcome is the explosion of information sources, some launched by the mainstream media in their effort to replace lost revenue, and others as separate start-ups. These cover an enormous range of interests – politics, sports, environmental concerns, Hollywood gossip, and much more. We enjoy almost limitless choices about which media we want to consume, no longer confined to a few TV stations and print newspapers. While that is a clear benefit, it also leads to polarization and echo chambers in which people rarely choose to expose themselves to differing viewpoints.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor: The Internet is a technological platform that has affected virtually every aspect of society. It is a macro system of interconnected private and public spheres: household, literary, military, academic, business and government networks. The Internet has produced major leaps forward in human productivity and has changed the way people work, study and interact with each other. The mix of open standards, diverse networks, and the growing ubiquity of digital devices makes the Internet a revolutionary force that undermines traditional media such as newspapers, broadcasting, and telephone systems, and that challenges existing regulatory institutions based on national boundaries. Its massive potential can be used, and abused, by Netusers.

The Internet affects our behaviour and conduct in many ways. Before the Internet, people had time to digest information before they respond. People resorted to pen and pencil when writing letters. They had time to reflect as they read their own letters, put them in envelopes, and carried them to the post office. Now all this process of thinking, digesting, and sending information is done far more quickly, sometime within minutes and even seconds. The digestion time is very short. Often people respond to messages they receive immediately, as quick as eye blink, without proper consideration. Thus people are more susceptible to send half-baked reflections, comments and thoughts. Many say on the Internet things they would never say face to face. The buffer of the Internet, especially when people are able to hide their identity, provides them with a protective shield (or so they assume). Thus people can easily use, and abuse, this wonderful communication platform.

Kent Norman: For the past four years I have been teaching a course on the psychology of social networking and social computing. Each student is required to keep a weekly journal of sessions and activities on social media sites. From these logs, the time and frequency of sites is in this order: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Email, GroupMe, and YouTube. Interestingly, their activities on these sites are split between academic use (organizing study sessions, group projects, and clubs) and social interactions. While college students often use Facebook for keeping up with friends and family, it seems to be more often used for school organizations, clubs, fraternities, and sororities. These activities are on the positive side!

Also on the positive side, students are aware of the need for social capital. The more links that they make, the more people that they can call on for references, backup, and favours. Many of the seniors are already on LinkedIn building their networks and promoting their skill sets.

However, on the negative side, some students obsess with keeping up with latest things posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and SnapChat. They seem to suffer from the fear of missing out (FOMO). They report checking social the first thing when they get up, multiple times during the day, and the last thing before they turn out the lights.
I think that I am fortunate dealing with college students rather than K-12. By college, most have learned how to navigate through social media and use it to their advantage by amplifying its positive benefits and minimizing the negative.

John Suler: When I started doing interviews with mainstream media twenty years ago, they focussed on the dark side of cyberspace – for example, Internet addiction, a seeming esoteric problem that has faded in news stories because we now accept our technological fixations. The Internet is indeed one of the most important inventions in history, which is why we are so obsessed with it and why the media should alert us to the emerging dangers, such as violations of privacy, security breaches, and predators of all types. Scary stories do sell, as media companies well know, because they activate our fears about a force propelling us into unknown territories. As something that seems to have escaped from the lab, cyberspace might do us harm, but might it also miraculously solve our problems? The media amplifies this love/hate relationship. It amplifies our cyber mania that swings us back and forth between idealizing then denigrating the Internet.

Rather than focusing on extremes, mainstream media might take to heart the Gartner Hype Cycle. We start off with escalating enthusiasm (as well as counterpoint anxieties) about a new technology. Then we become disappointed when it turns out to not be such a big deal. Eventually, after trial and error, we learn to use it wisely, in a measured way, given its pros and cons. It is that last stage the media should help us with.
That last stage will also help alleviate our culturally accepted addictions to digital realms, such as the compulsive quest for high ratings and popularity in social media – yet another phenomenon the news likes to amplify as it latches onto anything “trending.” Mainstream media has learned that if you can’t beat it, join it. Because cyberspace has sucked up all forms of communication, by selling it mainstream media sells itself.
- See more at: http://www.cambridgeblog.org/2015/11/cyber-psychology/#sthash.E8PpR7uP.dpuf

My Interview to Tertio, Belgium

On November 4, 2015, Tertio published a long interview conducted with me about my book, Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway. It was published in Flemish. I am happy to send a copy to interested parties.

My New Article

“Why Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side?”, Philosophia (2015),

Abstract: Raphael Cohen-Almagor, the author of Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side, explains his motivation for exploring the dangerous side of the world wide web. This new book is the first comprehensive book on social responsibility on the Internet.

Keywords: Internet . Child pornography. Crime . Cyberbullying . Hate speech .Racism. Responsibility. Terror. Trust

As ever, I am happy to email my article to interested parties. It is also available at

Asa Kasher, Editor of Philosophia, is happy to accept papers commenting on the above to be published in a special issue dedicated to my new book.

New Books

Adia Mendlson-Maoz, Multiculturalism in Israel (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2014).

Mendelson-Maoz compares and contrasts the literatures of the four communities she profiles: Israeli-Palestinians, Mizrahi, Russian and Ethiopian. The book is interesting and well-written.

In her discussion of the literature of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mendelson-Maoz presents the question of language and translation. Her study of Mizrahi literature adopts a chronological approach, starting in the 1950s and proceeding toward contemporary Mizrahi writing, while discussing questions of authenticity and self-determination. The discussion of Israeli literature written by immigrants from the former Soviet Union focuses both on authors who write Israeli literature in Russian and of Russian immigrants writing in Hebrew. The final section of the book provides a valuable new discussion of the work of Ethiopian-Israeli writers, a group whose contributions have seldom been previously acknowledged. For this discussion, Mendelson-Maoz should be congratulated.

Pity that the author did not invest more in comparing and contrasting literature of these four groups. Instead of the above structure, the book could have been far more interesting were Mendelson-Maoz identified common themes for analysis and discern distinctive themes that cannot be compared. The book’s Conclusion is very laconic.

This book competed for the Shapiro Prize for Best Book in Israel Studies, 2015.

Book Review

Amos N. Guiora, “Tolerating Intolerance: The Price of Protecting Extremism” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), Political Studies Review, Vol. 13, Issue 4 (2015), p. 589.

Below is a longer version of the published review.

One of the problems of any political system is that the principles which underlie and characterize it might also, through their application, endanger it and bring about its destruction. Democracy, in its liberal form, is no exception. Moreover, because democracy is a relatively young phenomenon, it lacks experience in dealing with pitfalls involved in the working of the system. This is the “Democratic Catch”.
The liberal tradition holds that the intolerant has the right to be tolerated. According to this view we have to be tolerant not because we cannot really avoid it, but because we think it is right and desirable. Rather than being driven to toleration, it is a claim of our conscience, a part of our conception of justice, a virtue acknowledged as being the distinction of the best people and the best societies. Tolerance has been conceived as a good in itself, and not as a mere pragmatic device or prudential expedient. This view has made every discussion on the confines of tolerance problematic.
The ability to tolerate relies upon the recognition that all people share some basic features. We tolerate others because we believe in the right of others to hold their beliefs and to exercise their choices freely so long as they do not harm others. This qualification of not harming others is crucial. The problems, however, are: (1) sometimes we are not sure whether the intolerant will translate threats into deeds and harm others; (2) we, liberals, do not wish to be “like them” and have difficulties in depriving the intolerant of basic rights and in inflicting harm on them; (3) we do not wish to cast “an arbitrary, capricious net in an effort to protect society”; (4) liberals are cautious not to grant government wide abilities to suppress the intolerant because they are afraid the government might exploit its powers to settle accounts not only with intolerant elements in society whose liberties should be restricted but also with political opposition for narrow, partisan motives; (5) due to the innate liberal inclination to tolerate, sometimes the government act too late, after concrete harm has inflicted on the intolerant’s target group. Guiora argues that societies have demonstrated startling inability to clearly recognize an obvious threat. Following Jeremy Waldron, Guiora addresses the need to recognize the price society pays in tolerating hate and harmful speech.
Karl Popper spoke of "The Paradox of Tolerance", explaining that because of the strong belief in toleration, on the one hand, and the fear of being intolerant, on the other, people are inclined to extend toleration to those who spread intolerant ideologies that aim to destroy the very foundations of toleration. Many see themselves as committed to treating every individual as a moral agent, and to allowing any person the opportunity to practice freedom - even if this attitude might prove conducive to promoting intolerance. Afraid of being intolerant, people tend to tolerate even those who clearly oppose the idea of toleration. However, the moral ideal of toleration does not require that we put up with anything and everything. Popper asserts that to allow freedom of speech to those who would use it to eliminate the very principle upon which they rely is paradoxical. He does not imply that we always should suppress utterances of intolerant philosophies; as long as we counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, "suppression would certainly be most unwise." But "we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force"; for it may easily turn out that the intolerant people are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument but may begin by denouncing all argument, "they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols."  
In this book, Guiora is set to address the challenge of determining the degree of extremism that can be tolerated before it poses a clear and present danger. Guiora opens with a definition of extremism, explaining that people who challenge conventional thinking, who dissent and/or who criticize the government, are not necessarily extremists. Guiora’s comparative and empirical study examines extremism in the USA, England, Israel, The Netherlands, and Norway, weighing the price society pays when it adopts tolerant policy toward the intolerant, and the price it pays when it does not. It discusses freedom of speech dilemmas in the context of multiculturalism, religious fundamentalism, political extremism and immigration, emphasising that a balance needs to be struck between freedom of expression and individual basic rights, on the one hand, and protecting members of society from harm, on the other. By harm Guiora means endangering physical safety. He argues that national constitutions should protect the practice and conduct of religion, and at the same time not protect crimes committed in the name of religious beliefs. The common victims are women and children. Cases in point are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), honour killing, plural marriage involving underage girls, and forced marriage of daughters.
Guiora’s interdisciplinary book that applies legal analysis to study social problems highlights important issues and provides a lot of food for thoughts. He touches upon the power of new media, suspecting that the Internet causes, facilitates, and foster extremism. He discusses Andres Breivik’s mass murder and the wider problem of extreme right-wing xenophobic anti-immigration in Norway. He contrasts between provocative speeches of people like Geert Wilders and Theo van Gogh, on the one hand, and terrorist acts of groups, e.g, the Hofstad Network in the Netherlands, on the other. Guiora asserts that there are significant differences between people who call to bring about social change via peaceful means, and people who incite for murder and violence, especially when these people have religious charisma. Guiora poignantly articulates the tensions that arise in Israel as a result of lack of separation between state and religion that unavoidably leads to coercion.  These tensions are compounded by deep disagreement among different sections of Israeli society regarding the formula for solving its entrenched and protracted conflict with the Palestinians. Israel needs to learn the lessons for Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, making an effort to mitigate tensions and, at the same time, take stringent steps against radicals who do not flinch from violence to promote their ends. Guiora calls upon the British authorities to address challenges posed by right-wing and religious extremist groups that resort to violence to achieve their aims. Guiora also surveys free speech legislation in the United States, from the 1798 Sedition Act to recent burning cross cases. Guiora tries to balance between freedom of expression, on the one hand, and protecting vulnerable elements in society from violence, on the other. His writing is lively and engaging, rich with examples for several democracies and informed by interviews with experts.
This book will be of interest to scholars and students of political extremism. Guiora’s vivacious prose, informed by contemporary examples from different countries, makes this book accessible to lay people as well. This book takes its readers to a fascinating journey to explore the boundaries of freedom of expression, one of the most difficult dilemmas that have been occupied the minds of liberals for several generations now, from Voltaire and J.S. Mill until today.

Novel - The Thorn Birds

This is an incredible story about life, love, and death. The novel tells the story of three generations on an Australian family. At the heart of the story is the complex relationship between Meggie and the local priest who is torn between his love to her, and his devotion to the church. Colleen McCullouge astutely describes people, emotions, landscapes, ups and downs in family life. Her descriptions are detailed and penetrating, sensitive and heart-wrenching.

The story is about love: love of Australia, love of the church, love of a family, love between people. To some extent, The Thorn Birds reminded me Gone with the Wind. The fine details, the ambition, the scope, the love and disappointments evoked memories of Gone with the Wind, which I read a few years ago, when I was 17...

I greatly enjoyed the book and recommend it wholeheartedly. Some of you may have seen the TV series.

Colleen McCullough touched me. She might touch you.

Gem of the Month - Chopin Competition in Warsaw 

One of the things I enjoyed most in Israel was the Arthur Rubinstein competition. While in Warsaw, the Chopin competition was in its third round and I resolved to see a concert. It was not easy to get a ticket but I did.

The 17th Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition, under the honorary patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland Bronisław Komorowski, enrolled 84 pianists from all over the world, representatives of China, Poland (15 people each), 12 pianists from Japan, 9 from Korea, 7 from Russia, 5 from the United States, and 3 each from Canada, Great Britain and Italy.

The international jury, led by Prof. Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń and comprised of Ludmil Angelov, Akiko Ebi, Adam Harasiewicz, Yves Henry, Andrzej Jasiński, Ivan Klánský, Anna Malikova, Alberto Nosè, Piotr Paleczny, Ewa Pobłocka, Marta Sosińska, Wojciech Świtała and Dina Yoffe, had a difficult task to decide between highly talented pianists. I heard four of them: Charles Richard Hamelin, Dmitry Shishkin, Alexei Tarakovsky and Zi Xu. I enjoyed Shishkin and Xu.

People arrived from all over the world to see the competition, including far places such as Mexico, Japan, China and the United States. Around me were sitting is the inspiring and most beautiful hall pianists and music teachers holding the competition book in their hands and taking extensive notes. I loved it.

Gem of the Month - Walking Tour of Jewish Warsaw

Anna, our guide, is knowledgeable, intelligent, and pleasant.  She conducted the tour with sensitivity and dignity for people, places, memories. Two and half hours of walking in history, in Warsaw as the city used to be. Highly recommended.

My Visit to Israel

In January 2016 I plan to visit Israel and will be happy to meet friends and colleagues. It is always good to come home.

Monthly Poems


If I could live again my life,
In the next - I'll try,
- to make more mistakes,
I won't try to be so perfect,
I'll be more relaxed,
I'll be more full - than I am now,
In fact, I'll take fewer things seriously,
I'll be less hygenic,
I'll take more risks,
I'll take more trips,
I'll watch more sunsets,
I'll climb more mountains,
I'll swim more rivers,
I'll go to more places - I've never been,
I'll eat more ice creams and less (lime) beans,
I'll have more real problems - and less imaginary
I was one of those people who live
prudent and prolific lives -
each minute of his life,
Offcourse that I had moments of joy - but,
if I could go back I'll try to have only good moments,

If you don't know - thats what life is made of,
Don't lose the now!

I was one of those who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer,
without a hot-water bottle,
and without an umbrella and without a parachute,

If I could live again - I will travel light,
If I could live again - I'll try to work bare feet
at the beginning of spring till
the end of autumn,
I'll ride more carts,
I'll watch more sunrises and play with more children,
If I have the life to live - but now I am 85,
- and I know that I am dying ...

Jorge Luis Borges


I recommend Ludovico Einaudi - Golden Collection (36 amazing songs)


Light Side

The Gym is like Church. Everybody thinks that by going one hour, one day, they'll erase what they did during the week.

Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


My last communications are available on http://almagor.blogspot.com/
Earlier posts at my home page: http://hcc.haifa.ac.il/~rca/

People wishing to subscribe to this Monthly Newsletter are welcome to e-mail me at r.cohen-almagor@hull.ac.uk
Follow me on Twitter at @almagor35