Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Politics – September 2017 – Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

~Miles Kington

The old saying “All is fair in love and war” might be true for love but it is patently untrue for war.

When leaders send soldiers to war, they should see each and every one of these soldiers as their own sons. Then they should re-reflect and ask themselves: Is this absolutely necessary? Do I have clear aims? Are they justified? Do I have the means to meet the ends? What is my Plan B?

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Reflections on Last Newsletter
Disturbing Wind from Germany
Kofi Annan
Israel-Colombia Relations
Remember, Remember, 21 September
North Korea
Trump Diet
Reform Weekend
Louise Ellman MP
Book Review of Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting
New Books
Gem of the Month – Road between Glasgow and Fort William
Gem of the Month – Stirling Castle
Gem of the Month – Slaley Hall Pool
Movie – The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)
London Theatre - The Ferryman
Monthly Poems
Pool Dressing Rooms

Light Side

Shana Tova, Happy New Year

Reflections on Last Newsletter

Hi Rafi

Thank you for your newsletters which are always interesting and often provocative. I find your comments on the Israeli occupation of “administered territories” especially so. You have indeed regularly observed that it is vile and deeply upsetting that the Jewish state feels it necessary to implement the policy of occupation.

There is much in your case to support. Indeed, I know of nobody who feels the occupation is desirable or something of which to be proud. With respect, however, that is not the point.

If Israel simply withdrew from all occupied/administrative territories, who would expect that the Palestinians would regard this as a positive step towards peace to which they would respond in similar vein? Almost certainly, I suggest, they would regard this as a great victory justifying their continued refusal to enter into meaningful discussions and re-affirming the correctness of their intransigence, making peace less likely.

So for those who criticise the Israel government for its continuing policy of occupation, it is reasonable to ask what alternative is proposed which does not put the lives of many Israelis at unacceptably increased risk.

Best wishes

Tim Friedman, Leeds, UK

Hi Tim

Thank you for your message.

My viewpoint attempts to find a balance between my worldview and realism. I do not wish Israel to simply go out of the occupied territories. Every vacuum is filled, and it is in the interest of both Palestine and Israel to see that once military presence and martial rule are lifted, Palestinian rule, law and order will prevail.

The issue is the trajectory: where does Israel head to? What is its endgame? Do its leaders recognize the evil of occupation? Do they wish to end it? Or do they accept it as a necessary part of life, that is here to stay?

Israel has no inclination to end the occupation. The government is expanding settlements all the time. No attempts are made to help the Palestinians in creating a sustainable economy. Israel blocks Palestinian attempts to develop themselves. Some Israeli leaders openly speak about annexation of part of the occupied territories. The trajectory is gloomy and depressing. The view is short-sighted and inevitably leads to further bloodshed. Tranquillity and peace remain a distant dream.

What Israel needs to do?
Acknowledge the evil inflicted on the Palestinians by the occupation.
Declare openly and explicitly that it is its aim to bring the occupation to a close.
Open discussions with Palestinian leaders as to how to do this.
Devise a concrete plan, with the Palestinian Authority (PA), how to reduce military presence in stages.
Slowly dismantle checkpoints by shifting security responsibilities to the PA.
Expanding the PA autonomy and self-government.

Hi Rafi,

Thank you for the trouble you have taken to respond to my e mail and I understand that, as a professional and an Israeli, you have certain advantages in assessing the situation over me. Nevertheless, I am a life-long Zionist and an avid student (at 75 !) of the international scene, anxious that Israel should live in peace with its neighbours and be a regular part of the community of nations - much like you. 

Whilst our ambitions are similar, we part company with what we each perceive to be reality in moving to the situation that we both wish to achieve.

Firstly, while individual Israeli politicians might be comfortable with the occupation (which I very much doubt), I am sure that to the huge majority of Israelis it is only the best of the alternatives presently available. If & when security considerations permit, I am convinced that most Israelis will be only too glad to withdraw.

Second, any peace overtures are not seen by the Palestinian leadership - and they, unlike democratic Israel, determine national public opinion to a large degree - as constructive. They are seen as weakness.

Third, I see little prospect of the PA, in present circumstances, being prepared to cooperate in taking military control over the area which would have the result of eliminating the threats to Israel. Indeed, even if they were and they did so, there would be other groups, well-funded, supported and trained, which would seek to take over the PA to resume hostilities under conditions which would be less favourable to Israel than currently.

Fourth, what has happened away from the Middle East where peaceable Muslims live are not encouraging. There, Islamists seek to take over and foment hassle for the peaceable Muslims & for all others. The violence in liberal Europe (where Muslims have the sort of rights and ability to live in peace that you properly wish to be given to those in the occupied territories) and elsewhere such as in Russia is only too obvious and frequent.

Fifth, it is difficult - to put it no more strongly - to find leaders of the Palestinians who would be prepared or able to enforce any agreement which the militants oppose. The prospect of world powers stepping in to enforce a fair arrangement with “boots on the ground” is a mirage.

My unhappy conclusion is thus that the sort of peace that you, I and many others desire is simply not possible at the moment. Furthermore, moves towards such an agreement may prove counter-productive since, when circumstances become more favourable, the failed efforts of the past may foster a sense of pointlessness in trying further - in the international community if not in the region. The passage of time, it is to be hoped, will soften the intransigence but I am not confident it will be soon.

Would that the portents were better! I would be reluctant to make the situation worse!

Best wishes


Disturbing Wind from Germany

Bad and highly disturbing wind is blowing from Germany, reminiscent of its dark and not-so-distant past. The government must curb this dangerous tendency before it is too late.

The rising Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is a far-right, anti-immigrant party that, along with a hard leftist party, is growingly appealing to working-class votes. Nazi slogans and songs become en vogue. History does repeat itself, sometimes. We do NOT want to be there.

Kofi Annan

The Annual Wilberforce Lecture was delivered this year by Kofi Annan. On 2 September 2017, the Hull City Hall was filled by hundreds of people who came to see and hear the former General Secretary of the United Nations.

Mr Annan noted that in 1807, England passed the Abolition Act. The Act abolished the slave trade in the British colonies. William Wilberforce, MP for Hull, dedicated most of his adult life to that end. Thanks to his persistence, slavery became illegal in some parts of the world, and illegitimate in further parts of the world. Annan voiced his appreciation for the man, saying that his home country, Ghana, was one of the centres of the world slave trade.

Article 4 of The Universal Declaration on Human Rights holds: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. But today, says Annnan, 21 million people are enslaved: hard labour, women trafficking, prostitution, child trafficking, child soldiers, organ trafficking - a long list of evils that the world needs to eradicate. We need to promote freedom and human rights, reduce inequalities between people worldwide.

Globalisation unfortunately did not reduce inequalities. Quite the opposite. It impacts world economy, creating further pressures and increasing inequality gaps.

Climate change brings new dynamics to international migration. Annan called these immigrants climate refugees. Annan emphasized the importance of the Paris Agreement and the need for global cooperation. Global policy should be based on four prongs:
Peace and security;
Rule of law;
Respect for human rights.

Annan spoke of the positive impact that refugees may bring to society. A bundle of clothes is the only thing a refugee comes with.

Asked whether he has a personal message to Trump, Annan replied that President Trump received a far more powerful message from Mother Nature.

Asked about the success of populist parties, Annan explained that populist leaders succeed where mainstream leaders fail to address the concerns of the people. Mainstream leaders should not leave the field for populist leaders to harvest.

Asked whether he would be interested to run for the presidency of Ghana, Annan said that Ghana needs a younger leader who is willing to commit energies for the benefit of the people.

A young (8 year-old) girl asked him what motivated him to become the UN Secretary General. Annan said that he did not plan this. One thing led to another. He studied in Ghana, became a student leader, was awarded a Ford Scholarship that enabled him to study in America, continued his studies, began to work at the UN and eventually became Secretary General. Annan said that the keys for success are:
Remain focus;
Do your best;
Team working;
Ability to listen;
Understanding that leadership is about serving others.

Asked what he does now, Annan said he is working to build stronger institutions in Africa and on democratization in African countries.

Mr Annan received the William Wilberforce Medal, given to extraordinary people who promote human rights in their community and/or in the world.


Hamas is ready to strike a long-term cease-fire deal with Israel, if it lifts its closure on the Gaza Strip, senior Hamas official in the West Bank Hassan Yousef told The Jerusalem Post.

“Hamas is prepared to make a long-term cease-fire with the Israeli occupation, in return for it allowing the residents of Gaza to live like all other people in the world with everything that they need,” Yousef, who helped found Hamas, said in an interview in his living room in Beitunya, a suburb of Ramallah, the de facto political capital of the Palestinian Authority.

“I mean the Israeli occupation needs to allow for freedom of movement – going and coming for travelers, students, sick people, expatriates, and all others who desire to move – exports and imports and everything else. It needs to lift its oppressive siege,” he said.

Israel-Colombia Relations

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Bogota.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos thanked Israel for promoting peace in his country, noting especially Jerusalem’s efforts to help defuse landmines. As a consequence of its 52-year civil war, Colombia has long been the country with the second highest number of landmines, after Afghanistan.
“Israel has been a friend and ally of Colombia and lately it has been a great ally in the construction of peace in our country,” Santos said. “You have offered help to us in several areas, including, for example, something that is very humanitarian, which is the removal of anti-personnel mines.”
In 2013, the two countries, which this year are marking 60 years since establishing diplomatic relations in 1957, signed a free trade agreement that is awaiting for ratification by the Colombian parliament. Santos said he hoped it would go into effect within “the next few months.”
In 2016, bilateral trade reached $580 million. Nearly 100 Israeli companies operate in the country.
Under Santos, who cannot run for re-election in next year’s election due to term limits, Colombia has become one of Israel’s best friends in Latin America.

Remember, Remember, 21 September

21 September is Peace Day, an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence. Every year individuals, organisations, families and friends come together to mark the day. By organising or participating in Peace Day events, we have the chance to reaffirm our commitment to peace in our homes, communities, countries and our world.

As this year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the first celebration of Peace Day as a day of ceasefire and nonviolence with a fixed calendar date, we’ve been highlighting a number of inspiring initiatives from previous campaigns, across different sectors. In these final few days leading up to Peace Day we are looking back at commitments from governments, religious leaders, NGO’s, dancers and musicians. 

See Jeremy Gilley, 15 Years of Peace Days: 5 - The UN Resolution

North Korea

When leaders send soldiers to war, they should see each and every one of these soldiers as their own sons. Then they should re-reflect and ask themselves: Is this absolutely necessary? Do I have clear aims? Are they justified? Do I have the means to meet the ends? What is my Plan B?

Trump Diet

I am taking the Trump diet: I try to avoid talking about him for a whole week. Wish me luck!

Reform Weekend

A reform synagogue in Manchester invited me to deliver to talks at its weekend retreat: one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and another about my last book, Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side.

It was great to spend time with people of the Reform Movement who share my values of tolerance, pluralism, respect for the person and peace. Certainly it was a most captivating audience listening to my lecture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One hour lecture. Followed by 1.5 h Q&A. Water! 

Louise Ellman MP

Ellman also spoke at this retreat. She said: Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is appalling. It takes many forms. Speaking about “Zionist power”. “Jewish power”. “Jewish powerful lobby”. This language is different from criticising the Israeli government for its policies. Fighting Anti-Semitism is an ongoing issue with more battles to weigh.


Discussion with a medical authority on end of life concerns. As we are about to depart, he suddenly says, out of the blue: I remember your Entebbe operation. This was terrific.

Book Review of Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting (NY: Broadway Books, 2015), Political Studies Review, Vol. 15, Issue 3 (August 2017), pp. 465-466.

This book is about superforecasters, people who are able to envisage the future in a superb way. The authors conducted a multiyear forecasting study called the Good Judgement Project (GJP), made up of thousands of ordinary people, all volunteered to forecast global events. This was the largest and most rigorous study of prediction to date. Some of the forecasters were astonishingly good, able to envisage the future with high accuracy. The authors wanted to understand the keys for the superforecasters’ success. They show that forecasting can improve with experience and thinking, that foresight is not a gift but rather a product of a particular way of thinking (pp. 68-72).

Tetlock and Gardner tell the story of the GJP (pp. 87-104); they explain its success; they interviewed high-profile decision-makers to show what good forecasting means. The authors argue that superforecasters are intellectually cautious, humble and nondeterministic (p. 191). They are open-minded, with dragonfly eye to diverse views (pp. 124-127), pragmatic, and cognizant of the value of checking thinking for cognitive and emotional biases. Superforecasters are relentless, determined to keep at their investigation however long it takes (pp. 154-155), uncomfortable with their tentative conclusions and thus testing them with the aim to get better and improve. Superforecasters are also reflective and comfortable with numbers (pp. 128-129). Superforecasting involves gathering evidence from a variety of sources, learning to think probabilistically (pp. 140-152), working in teams (pp. 201-204), keeping score within time frameworks (p. 236), and having the ability and willingness to admit error and change course of action when this is deemed necessary (pp. 159-166, 192). Tetlock and Gardner think that the most important qualities for Superforecasting are (a) intelligence, and (b) the degree to which people are committed to belief updating and self-improvement, in their terms these are perpetual beta people (p. 192).

The book is very engaging. The story is captivating. The lessons are scientific, well measured, practical and thought-provoking. The flow of writing makes a compelling thesis that is important and timely, with direct implications on our lives, be it whether the reader is a leader who has to face tough decisions, a strategist who is engaged with complicated decision-making processes, a political analyst who is tasked to envisage who will win the next election, or a person who wishes to invest in the stoke market. This brilliant book offers something to every reader. You will surely enjoy it. May I predict that this book will now be on your list of must read?

Gem of the Month – Road between Glasgow and Fort William

The road is stunning. Lakes. Mountains. And everything in between. Very different from Road No. 1 of the US West Coast and equally beautiful.

I can understand why Rough Guide readers name Scotland the 'most beautiful country in the world'.

Gem of the Month – Stirling Castle

A lot of money was invested to make the place special, and it is. It is as beautiful and more interesting than Edinburgh Castle. 2 to 3 hour visit worth your while.

Gem of the Month – Slaley Hall Pool

On the way back home, we made a stop at Hexham, a nice little town. We stayed outside at Slaley Hall. I love to swim and have been in dozens of pools all over the world. This one is special. Truly beautiful pool that makes swimming an experience.

I trust the hotel would appreciate the free publicity. The pool certainly worth a visit, even if you do not swim. In the evening, it looks blue-purple. I was sorry not to have a professional camera.

Movie – The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

This experiment is one of the most known cases in psychology, evoking a host of moral, social, psychological and methodological questions.

In 1971, Dr Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist at Stanford, published a local newspaper ad calling for volunteers in a study of the psychological effects of prison life. He wanted to see what the psychological effects were of becoming a prisoner or prison guard.

Of those who replied to the ad, Zimbardo and his colleagues chose a sample of 24 college students from the U.S. and Canada who happened to be in the Stanford area and wanted to earn $15/day by participating in a study. A simulated prison was set up at the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The volunteers were split into two groups of prisoners and guards. The researchers carefully observed the interactions between the two groups.

Zimbardo planned a two-week experiment. He stopped it after six days.

The experiment, and the film depicting it, is very disturbing. It shows what happens when you give authority to otherwise normal young men. Within 24 hours, some of them turn into sadistic brutes.

More information about the experiment at

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House. [See also]

In 2015, after the film was released, Zimbardo was asked:
You said watching this movie was painful. Forty-four years later, is there anything you would have changed about the way you went about the experiment, about how you set it up?
Yeah. The most critical thing: I feel guilty that I made the mistake of playing the role of prison superintendent. I should have only been the objective research principal investigator. I did it because, at the beginning, I said that all of us needed to take a role—like, the undergraduate David, he’s going to be the warden, Craig Haney’s going to be the lieutenant, and I’m going to be prison superintendent. [But] over time I became the prison superintendent. With that label at my door, and when parents visited and treated me as if I was prison superintendent, I began to act that way. What that means is that when I see prisoners breaking down, instead of saying, "Oh my God, I have to end this study, people are suffering," my job is what? Get a replacement. Bring the student to student health—which we did—get a replacement.
I lost my sense of compassion, which when I think of myself, is one of my main attributes—to be a compassionate, caring person, as a professor, as a person. I totally lost that. I would have changed that. I would have had a separate person play that role, or I would have had an ombudsman, somebody who sits back, observes the whole thing, and has the power to blow the whistle. "OK, time out, study’s over, you proved your point. Fade to black."

London Theatre - The Ferryman

A man disappears without a trace, leaving behind a wife and their child. Years later, his body is found. Who killed him? Why? Those who killed him wish to keep this a secret, and they are willing to go the extra mile to do so. They intimidate, they come between a priest and community, they divide families. In such a reality, while your enemy remains an enemy, your friends become foes. People do not know whom they can trust anymore.

This is the main plot of The Ferryman, but it is not the only plot. There are many layers that intersect. It is a political story. It is a family story. It is a love story.

The third act ends with a bang. I, for one, did not see it coming. It will startle you.

Remarkably, there is a quiet and comfortable baby on stage. He is well taken care for.

The Ferryman is drama at its best. The final act disturbed me a bit as it is a bit disjointed from the rest of the play. There is an unresolved gap between the first two acts and the third. More had to be done to prepare the audience for what is about to come. It was a bit too dramatic for my taste. This explains why it is 4.5 grade and not a complete 5 on my scale.

****1/2 on Rafi’s scale

Monthly Poems

Time to reflect. Open your heart:

Blessing for the New Year

May the sky be blue and clear
And your heart always filled with joyful tear

May peace and tranquillity prevail
Keys for resolving conflict unveil

May you create more than destroy
Making dreams a reality to savour and enjoy

May your mind be free of worry
No need to hear or say “I am sorry”

May you have time to delight in museums and parks
And mind to glee when adventure embarks

May you sleep like a log
And captivate listeners like a funny cat or dog

May you wish to sing as you wake up with a laugh
Love what you have and your second half

May you visit only the maternity ward
And hear your doctor’s concerns when the other team scored

May you surround yourself with people you love
To enable growth and see all thrive

May you add one true friend into your life
Be with you at moments of strife

May you know what your loved ones wish and pray
Before a word is uttered, knowing what they want to say

May her lips be welcoming and red
Embrace and ready when you are sad.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Houses of Dreams 

You took my empty dreams 
And filled them every one 
With tenderness and nobleness, 
April and the sun. 

The old empty dreams 
Where my thoughts would throng 
Are far too full of happiness 
To even hold a song. 

Oh, the empty dreams were dim 
And the empty dreams were wide, 
They were sweet and shadowy houses 
Where my thoughts could hide. 

But you took my dreams away 
And you made them all come true -- 
My thoughts have no place now to play, 
And nothing now to do. 

Sarah Teasdale 

Pool Dressing Rooms

What is the difference between pool dressing rooms in Israel and in England?

In Israel, men are walking naked;
In England, men are walking with towels around their waist.

Light Side

Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening', and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand.

Shana Tova, Happy New Year

Peace and love. I wish us a healthy, tranquil, peaceful and successful year.

Yours as ever,


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