Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Politics – February 2017

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

George Clooney warned of the shadow of McCarthyism looming over his homeland:
"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must not walk in fear of one another. We must not be driven by fear into an age of unreason".

Remember that Israel’s reason was called by prophets and not by saints.

~David Weisstub

Remember the Ten Commandments. One of them is: “Thou shall not steal". 

Know from where you are coming in order to know where you are going (paraphrasing Ahad Aha’am).

On future tellers: I rather live the present than know the future.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Reflections on January Newsletter
50 Years of Occupation
Gaza Terror
Yahya Sanwar Elected as Hamas Leader in Gaza
Shameful Law
Please Sign the Petition
Humane Israel
Trump-Netanyahu Meeting
Le Pen France
Democracy Index 2016
Israel and China are completing a free-trade agreement
Prime Minister Modi to Visit Israel
Israel and Turkey Improve Relationships
My New Article
New Book - The Crime of Complicity
Movie of the Month – A War
Monthly Poems
Gem of the Month – Charlotte
Gem of the Month – Kansas City
Gem of the Month - The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: The music of John Williams

Light Side

Reflections on January Newsletter

Donna Robinson Divine, Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Government emerita, Department of Government, Smith College, wrote:

I, too, knew Joyce Appleby and very much admired her work. I brought her to Smith to speak.  In fact, I pressed her to expand her analysis of capitalism to speak about its consequences for women.  She was very much the kind of scholar I admire--full of honest and thorough research and crafted into eloquent prose.  Her death is a loss for scholarship and for scholars who had the chance to learn from her work.

Abraham Silverman wrote from Edmonton, Canada:

One may want to ask why Mahmoud Abbas is in his 12th year of a 4 year term as president of Fatah. Could it be that the poles clearly show that if he held elections today he would lose to Hamas. Does Israel need another Hamas lead territory on it's eastern boarder? And how long will it take for rockets and missals to be set up 5 KM from Ben Gurion Airport and 10 KM from Tel Aviv. Does anyone really believe that Israel is stupid enough to listen to the world community when it's very survival is at stake. Wake up world. We are not talking only of the survival of the State of Israel but the survival of the Jewish people. 

50 Years of Occupation

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, the war that brought about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In 2005, Israel evacuated Gaza and a year later Hamas took over. Israel is still occupying the West Bank.

The word “occupation” is almost non-existent in the Israeli discourse. Israelis live in denial, refusing to see that they subject another people to horrible reality, reality they would not have liked to experience even for one single day. Their self-denial enables them to continue a regime that is based on coercion and injustice.

Like Old Cato, I have been saying for more than thirty years: the occupation must stop. It is vile. It is inhumane. It undermines Palestinian existence, and it also undermines Israel. The occupation negates Jewish humanity. It negates freedom. It negates democracy.

I am yearning for a solution that would put an end to the occupation and bring closer the idea of a two-state solution. Israel will continue to suffer from terror and bloodshed as long as the occupation continues.

Gaza Terror

Rocket terror returned from Gaza and Israeli retaliation swiftly ensued. Israel’s policy is to respond strongly to any rocket fire. The IDF believes that Hamas has fully rebuilt many of the military capabilities that Israel destroyed during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. The terror group claimed in its annual report that it killed 17 Israelis and wounded 437 more in 2016. 

Israel announced that it intends to implement a series of measures to improve the economic situation in the Gaza Strip provided that Hamas return three captive Israeli civilians and the remains of two IDF soldiers that it is holding. One possible step is the establishment of an industrial zone close to the border fence between Israel and Gaza, in which all of the workers would be Palestinians. Another is allowing the entry of Palestinian workers into Israel via the Erez pedestrian crossing in northern Gaza. Together, the two projects would provide employment to thousands of Gazans who qualify for the appropriate security clearance.

Other areas with room for improvement include the electricity crisis in Gaza and establishing a free-trade zone in the northern Sinai Peninsula in Egyptian territory, which Israel supports based on the assumption that such a project would improve the economic situation not only in northern Sinai but also in the Gaza Strip.

Yahya Sanwar Elected as Hamas Leader in Gaza

In February 2017, Yahya Sanwar has been elected to lead Hamas in the Gaza Strip after internal elections were held for the organization's institutional and leadership positions.

Sanwar was on the most senior officials released by Israel in the Shalit deal in which hundreds of terrorists and political prisoners were released in exchange for the return of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

He has a reputation as one of the most radical activists of Hamas, calling since his release for further kidnappings of IDF soldiers, and is thought of as the link between the military and political wing the terror organization.

With his ascent to power, Sanwar will take the reins to rule the strip from Khaled Mashal. He will coordinate Hamas activities with Ismail Haniyeh.

Sanwar’s new deputy is Khalil al-Haya who has also earned a reputation for being among the more radical elements of Hamas and was a member of the negotiating team in the Shalit negotiations. His son was killed in Protective Edge after the Israel Air Force struck his home.

After this reshuffle, more rockets were fired from Gaza. Promising.

Shameful Law

The Israeli right-wing government, with the support of the Knesset, has made another step to bring the country further away from peace and to subject Palestine to further strife and injustice. On February 6, 2017, the Knesset passed the so-called 'legalisation' bill which retroactively legalises 55 settlement outposts and nearly 4000 housing units built on land privately owned by Palestinians in the West Bank. The original landowners to be compensated either with money or alternative land – even if they do not agree to give up their property.

These outposts and buildings are illegal under existing Israeli law as well as under international law. This move will do massive damage, both to the chances of peace and to Israel's standing in the world. Israel's opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, described the law as "a very serious danger" to Israel. The law was also condemned by human rights organisations saying that PM Netanyahu is “willing to compromise the future of both Israelis and Palestinians in order to satisfy a small group of extreme settlers for the sake of his own political survival”. They maintained: “By passing this law, Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books.”

UN envoy for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov said the bill set a “very dangerous precedent.”

N Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov, February 9, 2015 (CC BY-SA Ottokars, Wikipedia)
UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov, February 9, 2015 (CC BY-SA Ottokars, Wikipedia)

“This is the first time the Israeli Knesset legislates in the occupied Palestinian lands and particularly on property issues,” he said. “That crosses a very thick red line.” Mladenov added that the law opens the potential for the full annexation of the West Bank and therefore undermines substantially the two-state solution. He also raised the possibility the law could open Israel up to potential prosecution at the International Criminal Court, a risk the Israel’s attorney general has warned of, as has Netanyahu despite his support of the bill.

Please Sign the Petition

I hope you will join me in speaking out against this shameful law by signing this statement, calling for "an Israeli government that supports peacebuilding, not settlement building": http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1767&en_chan=ef&en_ref=12631127&ea.campaign.id=63397

Humane Israel

Israel decided to grant refugee status to 100 children orphaned during the Syrian civil war, granting them temporary residency with a path to staying in the country permanently.

The policy, which follows a decision made by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, will allow the children to become permanent residents after four years, with the possibility of remaining in Israel for the rest of their lives. Immediate relatives of the orphans will also be in consideration for refugee status in Israel.

The orphans will reportedly be placed with Arab Israeli families.

Over 2,500 Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals since 2013. Israeli doctors have treated young Syrian patients with cutting-edge procedures that allowed them to walk again.


I was happy to return to the USA wondering whether I will find a different UNITED States despite his divisiveness. In many respects, it is the same USA. In other respects, Trumpland is different. I witnessed unhealthy mutual obsession between Trump and the American media. This poisonous relationship is damaging American best interests. The media cover each and every statement, executive order or tweet relentlessly. Trump is controlling public agenda. It is enough for him to tweet once in the morning, and the entire media devote long hours discussing, dissecting and criticizing the tweet. This is at the expense of real issues, issues that truly matter.

Here is an example: Trump, the populist businessman, understands and appreciates numbers. He issued a statement that he lost the popular vote because 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Clinton. He did not bother to back this statement with any data. It is just a tweet. What happened? All TV channels discuss this endlessly from morning till evening. Some of them recommended Trump: You won. You are the president. Move on. It does not matter anymore. But they themselves did not follow their own advice. For a whole day, they did not move on. They did not realize that they play into Trump’s hands. This is exactly what he wants.

Of course, some of the issues matter greatly, like his decision to close the gates for people from certain countries. But the media are wrong in discussing ALL issues that Trump focus on. They need to be more selective. President Obama, who used social media a lot, never received such an overwhelming attention. It seems USA has nothing else to discuss but: What did Trump do today? Or, what did trump do yesterday? As Trump does something each and every day, and the media scrutinize him closely, nothing else matters.

Trumpland is also different in personal encounters with people. In my previous visits and when I lived in the USA (on and off, I spent more than 5 years of my life in the USA), I always discussed politics. Outside of Washington, it was mainly Israeli and Middle Eastern politics. Americans outside of Washington always told me: Our politics is boring. Yours is far more interesting. Not this time. Now almost everyone discusses politics, mainly American politics. Now Americans find their politics worthy of discussion. For a political animal like me, this is fascinating.

All the people I met during my visit, who discussed politics, cannot stand their president. They speak of him in terms of a “bad dream”, “a nightmare”, “a sorry episode in the history of America”. Tells you something about my circles. On the airplane, as I was about to leave the USA, I embarked on conversation with the passenger next to me. I wondered whether he was of the absent winning camp. Indeed, I finally met my first Trump voter. I asked him why. He explained that he could not vote for Hilary. Trump is the lesser evil. I asked him why he could not vote for Clinton. The answer: She is corrupt. I asked for examples. Well, he said, do you know that during Bill Clinton’s time as Governor of Arkansas, nine people who opposed him disappeared? I admitted I did not know this and asked whether they were found by now. No, I learned. They vanished into thin air. Tells you something about the Clintons. When they want someone to disappear, he disappears completely. Scary.

OK, I said. This is serious. Do you have another example for corruption?

Yes, said the gentleman. Did you know that the Clinton Foundation claims that they were able to raise millions of dollars in donations? I did know this so I asked: Why do you find this problematic? Well, the Trump supporter responded, I do not believe this. How did they raise so much money? I smell corruption.

Reality and perception are very real in politics. Facts are less important. Their perception and presentation are far more significant. This has always been true. In American politics, this mixing is truer more than ever before and into the mix the Trump administration throws lies, twisting of facts, and falsehoods. Whatever serves the agenda is good. And please don’t speak to me about morals. Politics is a far too serious business to afford lofty ideas.
I plan to return to the USA in April. More to follow.


These are dangerous times. Trumpism is very different from all we learn and know about politics. His thinking is anything but conventional. Thus he evokes much interest and continues to astonish us. Because Trump has serious deficiencies in compassion, empathy, care for others, and respecting the dignity of others, and because he has little qualms harming others, the president of the USA is putting all of us in harm’s way

Trump-Netanyahu Meeting

Because Trump is so fresh, so green, so unexpected, one might have developed hopes that Trump may succeed where so many others have failed and bring peace to the Middle East. These hopes evaporated following the leaders’ meeting on February 15, 2017.

For the long-serving, experienced Netanyahu, it was the first time to meet a Republican president in the White House. His body language showed just how relaxed, indeed relieved, he was, to meet a brother for his uncompromising worldview. Netanyahu met a person whom he knows for some time, a friend, someone who understands him even before he starts talking. Trump would not push Israel to do things it does not want. Not now. Possibly not ever. At least, there is no reason to suggest he will. That means that Israel will have its way, and the Palestinians will be pressed hard onto a dark corner. They would not like it. They would resist. They would inflict pain on Israel. And they, the Palestinians, would suffer. Greatly.

Is this a solution? Certainly not a long-term solution. There is only that much that you can do with bayonets. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to bleed. Naftali Bennett, whose worldview dictates the agenda nowadays, should be very pleased. "This is the end of an era," he tweeted. "The Palestinian flag has come down and has been replaced by the Israeli flag. The prime minister displayed leadership and daring and strengthened Israel’s security." Bennett signaled the target, saying that only with a complete victory can we put an end to this cycle of violence. Now, what does he mean by “complete victory”? Your answer is as good as mine. How this complete victory will be achieved? My imagination plays brutal tricks on me, bringing me to reflect on dark days I wish I could forget. Trump would not stop him.

Le Pen France

On February 5, 2017, France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen formally opened her presidential campaign. Riding on the victories of the Brexit camp in Britain and Trump in the USA, and on the background of looming terrorism in Europe and Islamophobia particularly in France, the neo-Fascist National Front is enjoying wide popularity that might bring Le Pen to the Élysée Palace. "The divide is not between the left and right anymore but between patriots and globalists,” she proclaimed, drawing direct parallels between her campaign and Trump's. Resentment to globalization and immigration coupled with hostility to Islam are the twin pillars of her populist campaign.

Democracy Index 2016

The Economist published the Democracy Index of 2016, showing that 76 of the 167 countries covered by the model, or 45.5% of all countries, can be considered to be democracies. Of the remaining 91 countries in our index, 51 are “authoritarian” and 40 (up from 37 in 2015) are considered to be “hybrid regimes”.

Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% reside in a “full democracy”, down from 8.9% in 2015. The number of “full democracies” has declined from 20 in 2015 to 19 in in this year’s Democracy Index.  The US, a standard-bearer of democracy for the world, has become a “flawed democracy”, as popular confidence in the functioning of public institutions has declined. The score for the US fell to 7.98 from 8.05 in 2015, causing the world’s leading economic superpower to slip below the 8.00 threshold for a “full democracy”.

Around 2.6bn people, more than one-third of the world’s population, live under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China.

Full democracies are Canada, Australia and New Zealand; the Scandinavian countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Other European countries are: Austria, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Malta, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In Africa, Mauritius, and in South America, Uruguay. The greatest continent, Asia, has not even one full democracy. Sad.

Among the flawed democracies are Belgium, France, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan and Portugal.

Hybrid regimes include Ecuador, Lebanon, Palestine, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.

Among the authoritarian countries are Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Qatar, Russia and Syria.

Between 2006 and 2016 almost half of the 167 countries (81, or 48.5%) registered a decline in their overall scores. The biggest regressions have been in three regions—eastern Europe, North America and western Europe—which experienced a significant decline in their regional average scores between 2006 and 2016. Of the 21 countries in western Europe, 13 suffered a regression as their scores declined between 2006 and 2016.

Israel and China are completing a free-trade agreement

Israel further strengthens its relationships with China.  Israel and China are completing a free-trade agreement. Trade between Israel and China currently stands at $11 billion and is expected to grow significantly. Last year it was announced that Jerusalem and Beijing were negotiating a free trade zone, a move pushed by growing interest in Israeli tech start-ups by Chinese investors. Asian giants including Alibaba Group, Hutchison Water Ltd., and Huawei have set up R&D centres, invested in funds and snapped up Israeli start-up companies.

Prime Minister Modi to Visit Israel

India is seeking to strengthen its relationship with Israel. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning a trip to Israel in 2017—the first ever of its kind. Prime Minister Modi's visit will mark the first time in history an Indian prime minister will visit Israel. India's Ambassador to Israel made the announcement in an interview marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and India.

Israel and Turkey Improve Relationships

In early February 2017, Israel and Turkey conducted their first strategic dialogue in six years in Ankara. Officials from both countries’ foreign ministries met and the two countries agreed that two Turkish cabinet officials would visit Israel in the coming weeks – including the first visit by a Turkish minister in more than a decade. Both sides viewed developments in the wide region, particularly in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, and reaffirmed the importance of better Turkish-Israeli relations for the stability and the security of the region. They also discussed business, academic, and cultural exchanges.

Turkish-Israeli ties had been strained since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when a flotilla under the control of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation—a group designated as a terror organization by several countries,  attempted to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Ten crew members were killed in the ensuing fight, and several Israeli soldiers were injured.

After reaching a reconciliation agreement, Israeli leaders noted the significant economic potential of closer ties. Trade between Israel and Turkey has more than doubled from the Marmara event up until today,” said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, adding that the deal will bolster that growth with joint projects in government level. People are speaking about gas and there are other issues that might emerge. Turkey also sent Israel assistance to fight wildfires that raged throughout the country last November.

My New Article

“Assisted Dying Bill for England and Wales”, in Michael Cholbi (ed.), Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Global Views on Choosing to End Life (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2017), pp. 29-44.

This opinion paper is aimed to suggest an improved set of guidelines for physician-assisted suicide. Thus it is very practical, based on 25 years of research in eight countries and it does not expand on the underpinning theoretical basis for the guidelines. I have been an advocate of physician-assisted suicide and explained the reasoning elsewhere, primarily in The Right to Die with Dignity and Euthanasia in the Netherlands. I support the idea that patients should be able to decide the time of their death with the help and support of the medical profession. People have human dignity. At the end of their lives, the medical profession should respect their wishes and help them to the best of their abilities. By ‘dignity’ it is meant worthiness, merit. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”. Kant explained that human beings are end in themselves and that for something to be an end in itself, “it doesn’t have mere relative value (a price) but has intrinsic value (i.e. dignity)”. He further elucidated that autonomy is the basis for the dignity of human nature and of every rational nature. Kant calls dignity an unconditional and incomparable worth that admits of no equivalent.  All rational creatures have it, by virtue of their reason, and dignity constrains the ways in which we can legitimately interact. In a similar fashion, Dworkin asserted that individuals have a right to dignity because they are human. I argue that dignity is both objective and subjective concept. It is socially constructed and made up of values and feelings that one feels about oneself, about one’s self-worth and respect. It is further argued that legislation of physician-assisted suicide is a matter of moral necessity and political expediency.

New Book  

My good friend Amos Guiora published a new book. This is his most personal, most sensitive and most painful book. It is called The Crime of Complicity (Chicago: Ankerwycke, 2017).

Professor Guiora wrote a personal, sensitive book in honour of his father about the crime of complicity that had made the Final Solution a resounding Nazi success. He delves into his family's past in an effort to understand the complicity of the bystander, taking his readers on a painful life project as he explains the depths of despair of European Jewry who were led to their destruction while many of their neighbours turned their backs or actively cheered on as they watched the Jews' downfall. In a startling, thought-provoking book, Guiora explains why he believes the bystanders were responsible for the murder of his own family as well as of millions of others. In a humane environment, racism cannot thrive and genocide cannot take place. Unfortunately, humanity went to sleep during the Nazi conquest.

Movie of the Month – A War

I recommend watching the film A War, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_war

The film presents dilemmas in military ethics that are very relevant to Israel. It concerns a Danish battalion in Afghanistan, telling the story of one family. The father is a commander who fights the Taliban in a foreign land while his wife in Denmark raises their three young children. All are affected by the tragic war that at times is questioned also by the soldiers: Why are we in Afghanistan in the first place? Are there strong justifications for putting our lives in harm’s way?

The commander has to make tough decisions. Like most commanders, he prioritized the lives and safety of his soldiers. It is most important for him to see that they will return home safe and sound. This consideration is more important than preserving the lives of the Afghan civilian population. When the enemy mixes with civilians, ethical dilemmas are bound to arise.

The Israeli army is facing these ethical dilemmas time and again. Hamas’ tactics is to hide and mix within innocent civilian population. ISIS does the same in fighting its enemy. Time and again soldiers are faced with genuinely hard questions. “A War” portrays the dilemmas candidly and directly. The lens is Danish. Future films should show us the situation from the innocent Afghan and other innocent civilian perspective. Civilians are put between the rock and the hard place. We need to see reality also via their eyes.

**** in Rafi’s scale.

Monthly Poems

Paganini Plays
28 February 2006
Oakland, New Zealand

I could have expressed that which cannot be expressed
Safely investigate the skies’ secrets
Drowned in a million dollar smile
Breathless swallow the present as if there is no tomorrow
Is it love or mere lust?

Gulp every word miss heartbeat
No lips, eyes, breast
Completeness of two
Field to shepherd for two thousand years, and for one more minute
Tomorrow I bury my face, day after tomorrow

You uplifted me to unreachable places
The clouds are no longer thick, the cold does not penetrate
Dancing, floating, go over and beyond the sun
As Icarus, but do not burn
Is this Paganini who plays?

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Gem of the Month – Charlotte

I was invited to deliver a talk in the field of medical ethics to a very attentive audience at UNC Charlotte. Excellent discussion and series of questions.

I enjoyed visiting uptown Charlotte. It is clearly a growing city with lots of potential, with art and culture that I love.

Gem of the Month – Kansas City

I was also invited to deliver two lectures in Kansas City: one lecture at Children Mercy Hospital Bioethics program, in their Webinar series, on Child Euthanasia in Belgium. The second lecture at possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Kansas City Reform Synagogue.

I thoroughly enjoyed Friday prayer at Beth Torah. Beautiful singing. Beautiful music. Beautiful people.

I enjoyed the Art Gallery that has quite an impressive collection.

I am grateful to my gracious hosts and friends Dr John Lantos and Dr Martha Montello. I also acknowledge with thanks the excellent organization of Ms Laura Intfen from Congregation Beth Torah.

Gem of the Month - The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: The music of John Williams

 The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the best in the country. It is always a treat to hear them playing. Hull is the UK City of Culture 2017 and the RPO did us the honour to come and play for us. The hall was packed. The line of people waiting to enter the hall was the longest I have seen in the past ten years. The leading violinist touched my heart playing the Schindler List tune with sensitivity and precision. Perfect. I also loved the medley from Fiddler on the Roof. A beautiful evening to cherish.

Light Side

Snail with an attitude

A guy is sitting at home when he hears a knock at the door. He opens the door and sees a snail on the porch. He picks up the snail and throws it as far as he can. Three years later there’s a knock on the door. He opens it and sees the same snail. The snail says: ‘What the hell was that all about?’

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
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