Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Politics – December 2020 In Memory of Professor John Friend, who died of COVID on 6 December 2020. Yehi Zichro Baruch! May his soul be blessed forever.


John Friend (31st May 1931 – 6th December 2020)

John was a Founding Member of the Middle East Study Group at the University of Hull. He was Emeritus Professor of Plant Biology, Head of the Department of Biology, Dean of the Science Faculty, and Science PVC. He was a visiting Professor in the Botany Department of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His main Israeli research collaborator was Professor Alfred (Abraham Max) Mayer. Their main collaboration was on biochemistry of plant diseases. John was also the first chairman of ASGIME, the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East. ASGIME organised visits of British academics to Israel and invited many visiting Israeli academics in the UK to lecture in Hull. The following was written by his son, Mark:

Recollections on the life of John Friend (31st May 1931 – 6th December 2020)

I would like to offer some personal reminiscences of my father. 

Dad was born in Liverpool on 31st May 1931, the only child of Lilian and Richard Friend.

As a child he was evacuated during the war and billeted with a family in Wales.  He never spoke about it, but from what I can gather, this must have been a very difficult time for him, being separated from his parents at such a young age.  Back in Liverpool after the war he was evidently a bright spark at school - although with his characteristic modesty he always said that the real academic star of the family was his first cousin Fay, who aced her ‘school certificate’ (the equivalent of GCSEs) with straight distinctions.  But Dad didn’t do too badly either - to the extent that – from what I understand - he was two years ahead of his age group and took his ‘higher school certificate’ (the equivalent of A levels) when he was only 16.  As he was considered too young to go to university, and as the concept of a gap year had not then been invented, he ended up remaining at school and taking his A levels two more times; not surprisingly getting slightly worse results on each occasion.

Eventually he attended Liverpool University where he got a First in Biochemistry, subsequently completing a PhD there, and then another one, for good measure, at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge.  Pictures of John in the 1950s show a cheerful looking, athletic sort of chap, who evidently enjoyed playing rugby and tennis, driving open-top sports cars and smoking a pipe.  Mum and Dad got married in Liverpool in 1956.  There is an old ciné film of around this time showing them both on holiday somewhere beside the seaside.  Dad is shown lovingly licking an ice cream cone from all sides, before offering it to my mother for a taste. Mum hesitates for a moment and then politely declines. 

While completing his PhD in Cambridge, Dad had a job working in the low temperature research lab.  As this was deemed to be work of national importance, it gained him an exemption from national service.  But in 1960 my parents moved to Hull when Dad was appointed as a lecturer in the Botany Department at Hull University, later becoming senior lecturer and then professor of plant biology and head of department in 1969 while still in his late thirties.  That was an unusually young age to become a professor in those days and reflected the fact that he was considered to be a highly talented scientist on an upward trajectory.  

In fact in 1972 he was one of a group of 30 or so leading scientists of the day who were invited to become co-signatories to the so-called ‘Blueprint for Survival’ that was printed as a special edition of The Ecologist magazine and subsequently re-published in book format by Penguin Books.  I have recently checked this out online and it is clear that this was a radical and forward thinking manifesto for the cause of environmentalism – at a time when most people had never thought seriously about these issues.

Subsequent roles at Hull University included being Dean of Science and then Science Pro Vice Chancellor, and he eventually retired in the late 1990s as emeritus professor of plant biology.  

But returning now to the earlier part of his career, in 1967 Dad was able to take a sabbatical year as an associate professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the whole family accompanied him.  Looking back on it, it was a wonderful time for all of us, exposing us to a different culture and a different way of life.  My memories of Dad at that time are mainly of going on picnics at the weekend at the nearby lake, usually with families of other academic colleagues, and swimming beneath the waterfalls.  

Dad was always on the lookout for a bargain, but when it came to buying cars I am not sure he necessarily succeeded.  Shortly after arriving at Cornell he purchased an old Chevrolet for the equivalent of just under £200.  Cheap it may have been, but it also had a large rust hole in the floor under the driver’s footwell.  In the summer of 1967 we did a 2,000 mile road trip to Iowa to visit my mother’s American relations; Dad drove of course, though happily not in the Chevrolet, but in a modern rented car.

We also had two more foreign excursions as a family, courtesy of Dad being invited to work in other universities.  In 1970 he was asked to teach the summer school term at Harvard, and we therefore spent two months living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  We rented a flat in a rather ramshackle old house that had mice and unmentionable creepy crawlies in it, but Dad was not worried by such things.  Again, my memories of Dad are mainly of what we did at weekends – picnicking on a nearby beach – although this time there is one overriding memory of a particular picnic site which was well known for having swarms of green headed horse flies.  We should have paid more attention to the warning sign at the entrance to the beach which advertised the fact and said that there were no refunds available.  If you have never experienced these creatures, let me say: you don’t want to.  They hunt in packs and they bite.  So maybe this will help you imagine the picture of the Friend family on the beach, cowering under towels and blankets, trying to fend off the marauding insects, and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. 

Dad later became a visiting Professor in the Botany Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he collaborated with Professor Alfred Mayer on the biochemistry of plant diseases. That led to an invitation to spend the summer there to work on his research project in 1974, and again the family came with him.  This was our first visit to Israel, and a wonderful experience getting to know Jerusalem at first hand. 

Other travel related memories of Dad include holidays in the South of France in the early 1980s, staying with Mum’s aunt Shirley and her family.  Dad spoke a bit of schoolboy French, but it was probably not his strongest suit.  I remember one evening we were queueing at a self-service restaurant, and when it came to Dad’s turn he asked in his best Franglais for “un chicken et chips”, to the consternation of the French serving staff, and the general amusement of the rest of the family.   

Returning to the theme of Israel, this was a cause that was close to Dad’s heart, although he was certainly not an uncritical observer of Israeli politics.  He was fundamentally a liberal- minded intellectual and believed in tolerance, and the need to foster greater understanding between different cultures through collaboration.  He espoused these values by becoming the first chairman of the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East at Hull University, organising visits of British academics to Israel and inviting many visiting Israeli academics in the UK to lecture in Hull.  

He also played an active role in several local and regional interfaith groups, including serving as chairman of the Standing Committee on Religious Education for the four local authorities of Hull, the East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire where he represented the Jewish community.  The role of this committee was to provide and review the religious education syllabus for all maintained schools in these areas, and it is clear Dad’s contribution was greatly valued by fellow member the Reverend Canon Kate Goulder, with whom he also collaborated on the Hull and East Riding Inter Faith Group; she has commented that he welcomed adult students to the Hull Reform Synagogue, greatly enlarging their perception of the Jewish scriptures and of Jewish worship.  As the Reverend Canon Goulder has said to us: “Thank you so much, John,  for all you have taught me and have shared with me.”  

Dad was defined by his Jewish identity and in later years his interest in Judaism became an all-consuming passion.  Anyone who has visited my parents’ house will have seen the extensive collection of literature on all matters relating to Judaism, and he decided to have a second Bar Mitzvah in 2014, a mere 70 years after the first one.  The ceremony was officiated by Rabbi Amanda Golby, who has written movingly of the fact that his portion was the same as the one his granddaughter Eve had read the previous year for her Bat-Mitzvah.  As Amanda said to us: “I am sure that will be the only time in my life when I have officiated for both grandfather and granddaughter.”  

But if Judaism was at the core of Dad’s life, particularly in lis later years, it was by no means his only interest in life.  Dad was cultured, well-read, and interested in both classical music and jazz.  In fact it was Dad who gave me my first introduction to some of the great clarinet legends of the Swing era, notably Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, both of whom were among Dad’s favourites.  Fundamentally, Dad was also a kind and compassionate human being, as all those of you who knew him will, I’m sure, attest.  And one could not ask for more than this.

In the last few years, Dad’s health began to fail and eventually he required 24 hour care.  The decision to move him into St Mary’s was not an easy one, but had to be taken.  It is a terrible thing to see someone whose whole life has been dedicated to intellectual pursuits becoming incapable of doing even the most basic things, and unable even to hold a conversation.  Somehow you think these things can’t happen to someone like this, but they do.  He was very well looked after at St Mary’s and the whole family would like to thank them for everything they did for him.  The last few months have been particularly hard for Mum, with the care home being closed to visitors due to the COVID virus.  To me the most remarkable thing about Dad was how he bore his fate with courage, fortitude and good humour, always chuckling about something or other. I think he had a knack for appreciating the absurd in life.   

We have had a long time to prepare for the fact that we were going to lose him, but it is still a shock to realise that he has now left us.  I prefer to think not about the recent past but about all the other wonderful memories he has given us, some of which I hope I have been able to convey today.  As a husband, father, father in law and grandfather, as well as in his capacity as a member of the community, he will be greatly missed.  

Mark Friend 

Reflections on Last Newsletter

Good News: Political Milestones

US Action against the BDS Movement

Hebrew language and Israeli culture institute opens in UAE

Israeli Scientist Wins $2.5 million “Wild Ideas” Award 

My Interview: Online Hate Speech and Internet Intermediaries. 

My New Article: “History of Track II Peace Negotiations: Interview with Hussein Agha”, Israel Studies, Vol. 26(1) (2021): 47-72.

New Books: 

Breaking the Binaries in Security Studies

Maimonides the Universalist: The Ethical Horizons of the Mishneh Torah

Legislative Deliberative Democracy: Debating Acts Restricting Freedom of Speech During War

Did You Know?

Movie of the Month – A Hidden Life (2019)

Monthly Poems

Light Side

Reflections on Last Newsletter

Here is a question: Is there Trumpism? Did Trump create something new or he is representing some part of the American culture? I think that there is Trumpism, elements that Trump infused into existing worldview. However, this view is contested by some of my readers.

Another question is whether Trumpism is here to stay or will it be forgotten. From my perspective as a political scientist, Trumpism is already a discussed phenomenon in the literature and I assume that more will be published. 

Ms. Tzippy Hauser wrote from Israel:

Rafi – 

The values you list have evolved and been fought for since the world was young. As they are adopted, the old evils do not disappear. They are buried, and become unacceptable, non-PC. Changing values bring changing social, religious, gender, cultural, economic realities, which are unwelcome and frightening to many. 

Compounded by technology, this is happening at breakneck speed in the US. Just one astounding example: Biden’s ascendency, buttressed by South Carolina’s Jim Clyburn, and his victory in Georgia, handed to him by Stacey Abrams, can leave no doubt of the power of the “browning of America”. 

These shifts and the hyper-consumerist nature of US society – ever searching for new distractions and deeply conditioned to respond to their persuasions – was fertile ground for Trump. He branded his outrageous, endless lying and his trampling of norms, as good ol’ non-PC American brashness and forthrightness. His non-stop, noisy Trump Show was met with shock and helplessness, as the powers-that-be sought to contend with him within the framework he flouted, and failed. Even when they impeached him. Until COVID and the election, when the people spoke.

Trump gave his consumer-base permission to voice their prejudices and hatred out loud, as well as targets to blame for their troubles – a ploy he uses for his own benefit, too. Like any cheap huckster, he latched onto and fed their fears and, they, in turn, fed on the dreams he sold them. That they could be like him, a self-made, blue jeans (have anyone ever seen him wearing them?) billionaire. Never mind that he is from New York City, which they so despise, and that he has come by his money through means light-years beyond their reach: inheritance, tax gimmickry, multiple bankruptcies, licensing the Trump name, and fraudulent schemes we will continue to discover when he leaves office. Trump elevated white, gun-toting militias to defenders of the Constitution. He promised a “return” to a MAGA America that exists only on old TV shows, of a white society, of families where women stay at home, raising children, cooking, cleaning and supporting their menfolk-breadwinners. In a truly vicious cycle, Trump’s most ardent supporters have blown up his phony macho scorn for life-saving measures, such as masking and social distancing, into violations of their civil rights and justification of violence. 

“Trumpism” is not a new phenomenon that is here to stay. It is as old and tired as he is, pumped up, trumped up. Nor has he planted any “seeds” in the US. Quite the opposite – he uncovered what was barely buried. 

The plight of many in Trump’s base is real, and a root of his success. If America is to recover its footing, the Biden administration must address their problems and help them find their places in society, where they can live lives of respect and peace – and let others do the same. 

This is a huge mountain to climb. 

Dr Alan Roth wrote from England:

Dear Rafi,

Thanks for your message and always interesting piece.

You know well that as a Venezuelan scientist I am very far from politics anywhere in the world. So politics aside,  I would factually add to your introductory comments that in all fairness the departing president of the USA should be given credit for three important achievements you omitted. These are however of historic importance not just to Israel and the Jewish people everywhere but to the civilised world at large:

- He had the courage to do the long-overdue, correct and obvious but that no US leader dared to actually DO before: he moved the USA Embassy in Israel to the capital of the country

- He had the courage to eliminate (at his generous taxpayers' exclusive expense) the No. 1 state terrorist mastermind on the planet and the military leader of the most dangerous threats to Israel and the Western world at large: Soleimani

- He had the courage to lead his and the rest of the cowering Western powers out of a dangerous and completely naive nuclear arrangements with the lying, deceitful, criminal Iranians

Would you consider an errata to rectify this or mention these points on your next piece?

Or of course will be happy to stand corrected if it is me who has missed something

All the best,


My primary school friend, Yoav and I do not always agree on politics. But it seems that when Trump is concerned, we are in agreement. Yoav shared with me his recent article:

The turning point of US political history - opinion

The White House became the center of abusive rhetoric, unfounded allegations, in which the truth played a secondary role and unscientific arguments became the norm


NOVEMBER 18, 2020

Professor Art Hobson wrote from the USA:

Hello again my friend, 

Yes, Trumpism is here to stay.  But “Trumpism” might not be the best term because Trump did not initiate it although he supported it and strengthened it.  A better term would be “anti-intellectualism” although this also does not capture the full phenomenon.  Other related terms:  anti-government, anti-science, fiercely  individualistic, anti-rational, anti-education, religiously fundamentalist.   These words do not describe the US majority today, but they describe a very strong and persistent minority of Americans, about one-third.  These are the die-hard Trump supporters.  Another fraction also voted for Trump because they agree with him but they do not like Trump as a person.   So Trumpists form about 50% of the population.   

Trumpism has existed in the US since the 17th century when about a million “borderers,” also known as “Scot-Irish,” came to America.  At that time, they made up a large fraction (maybe a majority) of Americans, basically the “hillbillies.”  Every immigrant group after them (Irish, German, Italian, etc.) was influenced by their culture.  They came from the border region between England and Scotland, and fought against England and against each other.  They formed large feuding families--think of the Hatfields and the McCoys in America.  Many of them also migrated to Northern Ireland and some of these then also migrated to the US.  I have read a good book:  “Born Fighting:  How the Scots-Irish shaped America” by former US Senator James Webb.  There is also a brief on-line essay: "Drink, Pray, Fight, Fuck” by Joe Bageant:

By the time of the American revolution, this culture had a strong hold on the nation.  It is personified by the revolutionary flag stating “Don’t Tread on Me.”  It is strongly anti-government, anti-royalty, and anti-intellectual.  It values strong feelings, especially fierce anger and emotional religion.   Today, it supports guns and opposes democrats.  It has a strong streak of protestant fundamentalism.   It rejects global warming and biological evolution along with most science.  Paradoxically, it is strongly nationalistic and most of the Confederate states shared the borderer culture.  It tends to love guns and flags.  It’s what makes this nation dangerous.   

Take care and stay safe, 


Mr Abe Silverman wrote from Canada:

Let me be absolutely clear, I do not like Trump the person. And that dislike comes from a feeling. And that is the last time that feelings and emotions will appear in my writings. I am not an authority on Misogyny or Narcissism so it would be wrong to express an opinion. Until Trump is charged and convicted of rape, molestation and abuse of women I give him the benefit of the doubt. Until the IRS charges and convicts Trump of tax fraud and money laundering it becomes pure speculation. And I have no confidence in a mainstream media that spent 4 years trying to unseat a duly elected President. Clearly they showed a bias that is an affront to truth and honesty.

Now lets review Trump's unorthodox but effective Governing style and I would like to start with Israel and the Middle East. Even those Jews who are hardened Trump haters would have to admit that what Trump did for Israel and the Jewish people is unprecedented. No other President even comes close. And that is reflected in the polls that clearly 75% of Israeli Jews if they had a vote would have voted for Trump. What is sad and dangerous for the Jewish people is that 70% of American Jews did not vote for Trump. The division in Jewish society between Israeli Jews and the diaspora and even within Israel does not bode well.

Trump wanting to secure its southern border brought an onslaught of criticism from the media and the Democrats. Yet many videos can be seen on Youtube with Obama, Biden, Pilocie, Bush and both Clintons insisting that the US Southern border needs to be secured. Yet when Trump insisted on building a wall, and we Jews know that walls work, the Democrats and the media were outraged. Everyone spoke about the unfairness of the International trade deals and how the US was taken advantage of. Yet when Trump imposed tariffs and renegotiated trade deals he was constantly berated and accused of disrupting the International order. And yes, when he spoke the truth to his NATO alias and insisted that they pay their fair share he was accused of destroying the US relationship with it's Alias. When the news broke while the Democrats were busy trying to Impeach Trump and Trump ordered all travel to and from China stopped immediately, the Democrats and the media accused him of being a racist. I think it was remarkable how quickly Trump organized a Covid task force who immediately moved Hospital ships where they were needed most, built 3000 Covid beds in the Javits Center in New York in 4 days and recruited industry to build ventilators and PPE in record time. His operation warp speed is producing vaccines and therapeutics at speeds never seen in modern medicine. And yes the US has many deaths which is also true in Europe and in Canada and in Israel. Remember in the US it is much more difficult to control the population because of the freedoms guaranteed in the US Constitution.

And yes it is true. Before Covid the US enjoyed an economy that was unprecedented due to Trump's policies of lower taxes and deregulation. With 72 million votes and a loss of Democrat Congressional seats it is fair to say that without Covid Trump would have easily won a second term. It is time to set aside hate and emotion in the US and in Israel and for the sake of the world logic and common sense must prevail. And we Jews should pray that Biden does not go back to Obama's destructive policies

Warm regards

Abe Silverman

Good News: Political Milestones

Israel and Morocco agreed to normalize relations, marking another milestone in U.S. efforts to strengthen ties between once-hostile nations in the region. The U.S.-brokered deal was the fourth in four months between Israel and Arab countries, preceded by agreements with UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

Benny Gantz had enough of Netanyahu’s tricks. He came to the belief that Netanyahu will not respect the rotation deal and, in a move that could signal the end of the government, Defense Minister Gantz has decided to establish a formal commission of inquiry to investigate Prime Minister Netanyahu and his role in the purchasing of submarines and other naval missiles. The commission would be enabled to force Netanyahu and his closest associates to testify. It would be headed by a retired judge and include former IDF officers. 

Then Gideon Saar, a prominent Likud member, announced his departure from the Likud. He intends to form a new party that might take some crucial seats from the Likud and unseat Netanyahu.

And, a bill that would add equality to the Basic Law passed by 56 to 54 votes in the Knesset as Gantz’s Blue & White joined the opposition against Likud and its other coalition partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism. The bill, which must still pass three more times in the plenum and three in committee for it to become law, would add the right to equality to The Basic Law Human Dignity and Liberty and make discrimination illegal. This would bolster human and civic rights in Israel and erode the unofficial discrimination of Israeli Arabs.

US Action against the BDS Movement

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US Government will take action against the Anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement and Groups that Support It. “We will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said, adding that the designation will come along with concrete steps against it. "We will immediately take steps to identify the organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support from such groups." Pompeo compared the BDS movement with "cancer," and reinstated the "ironclad" US commitment to Israel's security: "During the President Trump’s administration, America stands with Israel like never before."

Source: i24 News

Hebrew language and Israeli culture institute opens in UAE

First-of-its-kind school opening in 4 locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai for businesspeople interested in Israeli conversation, culture and cuisine.

Israeli Scientist Wins $2.5 million “Wild Ideas” Award 

Israeli neurobiologist Professor Oded Rechavi, of Tel Aviv University, has been awarded one of the first two $2.5 million Polymath Awards. Funded by the Schmidt Futures Initiative, the award encourages scientists to take risks and investigate new wild ideas.

My Interview: Online Hate Speech and Internet Intermediaries.

My New Article: “History of Track II Peace Negotiations: Interview with Hussein Agha”, Israel Studies, Vol. 26(1) (2021): 47-72.

This article records my interview with Track II Palestinian peace negotiator Hussein Agha. We discussed his own involvement in the peace process; the Oslo Accords; the Stockholm channel; the Beilin/Abu Mazen Agreement and Camp David 2000. We also discussed the qualities of the two Palestinian leaders who chose him for different assignments, Arafat and Abbas; the use of violence as a political weapon; Palestinian internal rivalries; the merits of Track II negotiations, and Palestinian Right of Return. The interview assesses the positive and negative lessons and implications of the peace process.

New Books: 

Breaking the Binaries in Security Studies

A Gendered Analysis of Women in Combat

Ayelet Harel-Shalev and Shir Daphna-Tekoah

Oxford University Press, 2020

In critical security studies and Feminist IR, studies explicitly devoted to violent state actors, particularly women who engage with violence, remain limited. The book focuses on the study of women combat soldiers in the fields of Security Studies and International Relations. It addresses this issue by bringing the soldiers' voices and silences to the forefront of research in these domains. The narration of the soldiers’ experiences sheds light on the analysis of violence, state violence, combat trauma, security and in-security. The book explores women who served in combat roles in the Israel Defense Forces; but the analysis extends beyond the Israeli case insofar as the book offers important general insights into the larger issues of the links between war and gender, body and gender, trauma and gender, and politics and gender. Presenting soldiers, veterans and women soldiers as narrators and describing their multiple nuanced voices make a valuable contribution to understanding political violence and to comprehending the multiple and multilayered battles faced by soldiers within the spaces of combat.

For more info:

Maimonides the Universalist: The Ethical Horizons of the Mishneh Torah

Menachem Kellner and David Gillis 

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2020


Maimonides ends each book of his legal code, the Mishneh Torah, with a moral or philosophical reflection, in which he lifts his eyes, as it were, from purely halakhic concerns and surveys broader horizons. Menachem Kellner and David Gillis analyse these concluding paragraphs, examining their verbal and thematic echoes, their adaptation of rabbinic sources, and the way in which they coordinate with the Mishneh Torah's underlying structures, in order to understand how they might influence our interpretation of the code as a whole - and indeed our view of Maimonides himself and his philosophy.

Taking this unusual cross-section of the work, Kellner and Gillis conclude that the Mishneh Torah presents not only a system of law, but also a system of universal values. They show how Maimonides fashions Jewish law and ritual as a programme for attaining ethical and intellectual ends that are accessible to all human beings, who are created equally in the image of God.

Many reject the presentation of Maimonides as a universalist. The Mishneh Torah especially is widely seen as a particularist sanctuary. This study shows how profoundly that view must be revised.


Legislative Deliberative Democracy: Debating Acts Restricting Freedom of Speech During War

Levit, Avichai

(Routledge, 2021. 256 Pages)

Freedom of speech is a basic right in a democracy. During war, however, national legislatures tend to enact laws that restrict this basic right. Under what circumstances can such laws be democratically legitimate?

I argue that the degree of democratic legitimacy of laws that restrict freedom of speech during war depends on the extent of legislature deliberation on such laws. The more law makers in both chambers of the legislature, seriously consider information and arguments, reason on the common good and seek to persuade and decide the best legislative outcome, in committees and on the floor, the more democratic legitimacy can be associated with such laws. My book fills a gap in the scholarly literature regarding the evaluation of the democratic legitimacy of laws restricting freedom of speech during war, by bridging different theoretical perceptions and presenting an alternative normative account of deliberative democracy which focuses on the deliberations of a national legislature. Using the United States as a case study, my book goes into the details of Congressional deliberation during World War I, World War II and the Cold War, as well as the political histories that brought about such laws.

Legislative Deliberative Democracy will be of interest to academics and students alike in the fields of political theory, American politics and political history. Deliberative Democracy/Levit

Did You Know?

The average U.S. household has 300,000 things in it.

How many items you think are there at your home?

The longest place name in the world is 85 letters long.


Would you like to live in that place? 

Movie of the Month – A Hidden Life (2019)

Terrence Malick film A Hidden Life tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to take the Hitler Oath when he was drafted to serve in the German army. All attempts to persuade him failed. 

Jägerstätter examined the morality of Nazism in light of Hitler’s suppression of the Church and reports regarding the Nazi euthanasia program known as Aktion T4. He could not reconcile himself to support those actions. Jägerstätter and his wife were the only people in the village who openly declined to support Nazism and had to suffer the wrath of their neighbours who did not appreciate their resistance. They became personae non gratae in their own village.

After Jägerstätter heard that Austrian priest Franz Reinisch had been executed for refusing to take the Hitler’s Loyalty Oath, he was determined to follow his defiance.

Jägerstätter was arrested, tortured but withstood his ground. He was unable to do something against his conscience. When the Nazis realized that he will not be convinced, Jägerstätter was court-martialed and sentenced to death at the Reichskriegsgericht in Berlin-Charlottenburg on July 6, 1943.

In the court-martial hearing, Jägerstätter said “that, due to his religious views, he refused to perform military service with a weapon, that he would be acting against his religious conscience were he to fight for the Nazi State…that he could not be both a Nazi and a Catholic.”

Jägerstätter added “that there were some things in which one must obey God more than men; due to the commandment ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ he said he could not fight with a weapon. However, he was willing to serve as a military paramedic.”

After his trial, Jägerstätter was transferred to Brandenburg-Görden Prison on August 9, 1943 and was executed by guillotine later that afternoon. After the war, his ashes were buried at the local cemetery in St. Radegund.


Malick is known for his long, artistic films. A Hidden Life is no different. I found it too long. The art value undermined, in my humble view, the drama. Jägerstätter apparently was not a very talkative man; thus, there is a lot of silent moments in the film. August Diehl, who played Jägerstätter, conveyed feelings, sentiments, and thoughts by facial expressions. The film makes you think what would have happened if many young Germans and Austrians were to adopt the same moral standards as Jägerstätter did. 

So many people are willing to turn a blind eye to evil for all kinds of motives, some personal, other ideological. And this what evil needs in order to thrive.

*** on Rafi’s scale.

Monthly Poems

“Colors of the Wind” is one of my most beloved songs ever. Its lyrics are always meaningful and beautiful, carrying a universal message that is here to stay. I have heard this song performed by many people, including by Alan Menken who composed this perfect piece. But my favourite version is sung by one of my most beloved singers Vanessa Williams. Take 3 minutes of your busy time and watch perfection:

"Colors Of The Wind"

You think you own whatever land you land on

The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim

But I know every rock and tree and creature

Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people

Are the people who look and think like you

But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger

You'll learn things you never knew you never knew

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest

Come taste the sun-sweet berries of the Earth

Come roll in all the riches all around you

And for once, never wonder what they're worth

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers

The heron and the otter are my friends

And we are all connected to each other

In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

Or let the eagle tell you where he's been?

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

How high does the sycamore grow?

If you cut it down, then you'll never know

And you'll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

For whether we are white or copper skinned

We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains

We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still

All you'll own is Earth until

You can paint with all the colors of the wind

Tori Kelly

Blessing for the New Year

May the sky be blue and clear

And our heart always filled with joyful tear

May peace and tranquillity prevail

Keys for resolving conflict unveil

May we create more than destroy

Making dreams a reality to savour and enjoy

May we all be free of worry

No need to hear or say “I am sorry”

May we have time to delight in museums and parks

And mind to glee when adventure embarks

May we visit in hospital only the maternity ward

And hear our doctor’s concerns only when the other team scored

May we sleep like a log

And captivate listeners like a funny cat or dog

May we surround ourselves with people we love

To enable growth and see all thrive

May we add one true friend to our life

Be with us at moments of strife

May we wish to sing as we wake up with a laugh

Love what we have and our second half

May we know what our 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 Almagor

Light Side

From Tim Friedman:

A female CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview. "Pardon me, sir, I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. What's your name? "Morris Feinberg," he replied. "Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?" "For about 50 years." "50 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?" "I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims." "I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop." "I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults and to love their fellow man." "I pray that politicians tell us the truth and put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests." "How do you feel after doing this for 50 years?" "Like I'm talking to a wall.

Happy Chanukah – Merry Christmas – Happy New Year!


Peace and Good Health to you all


My last communications are available on Israel: Democracy, Human Rights, Politics and Society,

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Twitter at @almagor35