Sunday, April 13

"Final Solution" or "Voluntary Departure"

English: Passover Seder Table, Jewish holidays...
English: Passover Seder Table, Jewish holidays עברית: שולחן הסדר, Original Image Name:סדר פסח, Location:חיפה (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If this will raise eye-brows, so be it! Israel's Government with its insistence of recognition of Israel as a Jewish State has undertones that smell of a terrible era for the Jewish People - the Holocaust. I do not wish to compare the two scenarios as there is an unbridgeable difference. However, with Passover on our doorstep, we must be reminded of our tragic history and cease using euphemisms for forced expulsion of asylum seekers such as " voluntary departure". Nobody leaves a place of refuge for another place, where death and forced poverty is rife.

The Nazi bastards, as we know, were masters of euphemism. "Final Solution" in the early days of the notorious Nazi regime began with deportation of Jews. Later on it was deportation to death camps. Are we also becoming masters of euphemisms when it comes to asylum seekers? Israel's doors are open for Jews from the diaspora to come and settle. Some are in distress but most are not. That is ok! No problem! Israel is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This means that it has obligations towards them. In practice many of the conditions stipulated are overlooked.

The refugee situation in Israel is poor. When countries accept refugees they take the responsibility for allowing them to seek work and they also have to provide the refugees with conditions that are similar to what the citizens of their respective countries receive.

 On Monday 25 November 2013, the proposed amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law passed the first reading with 43 Members of Knesset voting in favor and 17 in opposition. The proposed legislation allows for one year of administrative detention of refugees and asylum seekers and their indefinite imprisonment in "open” centers to be run by the Israel Prison Service.  The bill has been met with strong opposition from human rights organizations, which believe the new amendment is even more draconian than the one overturned by the High Court of Justice on 16 September.

The government is moving with extraordinary swiftness to pass the bill before the expiration of the 90-day period set by the Court by which asylum seekers detained under the overturned amendment must be released. We may well see the amendment approved within a matter of weeks-- and possibly even days.

The proposed legislation comes in response to the recent High Court of Justice (HCJ) decision that overturned previous amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law. This Law had allowed for individuals that irregularly entered Israel to be detained for three years. In its decision, the Infiltration Law was called "a grave and disproportionate abuse of the right to personal freedom, which is a fundamental right of every human being, and deviates from the principles accepted in Israel and the enlightened world."

While the bill reduces the period of detention from three years to one, it also proposes indefinite detention in "open" centers without judicial review. The proposed legislation is in contempt of the recent HCJ ruling and continues Israel’s restriction of asylum seekers rights.

Pesach (Passover - the Festival of Freedom from Egyptian Bondage in Biblical times) somehow has lost its significance within today's context. It is supposed to convey a message on freedom for all people in the achievement of human rights, dignity and justice. In the Israel of today, unfortunately this is not the case. Foreign workers, contract labour guaranteeing minimum wages with no security, is all part of the pattern of abuse that is becoming more common in employer-employee relationships. 

While most of Israel is sitting at their Seder table reading the Pesach Haggadah, these unfortunate omissions on Israel's treatment of refugees and foreign workers will not be on the agenda. The Jews have their homeland but it is becoming insensitive to the plight of those who seek asylum from certain death. Another term that has become common place to describe these refugees is "infiltrators". The definition of "asylum-seekers", "refugees" and "infiltrators" is becoming all-inclusive, with the latter having very negative connotations allowing leeway for exploitation and abuse of these unfortunate people.

Israel, like all countries of the world, has the right not to accept illegal immigrants. However, once Israel accepts and grants asylum to refugees then it must take responsibility for their welfare. 

Kav Laoved is a remarkable organization that is working under very difficult conditions and has alleviated many problems peculiar to foreign workers. They are unable to assist them when their working visa expires and these people face certain deportation after many years of devoted service. The care-givers who look after our aging population with great devotion until they pass away is an example of a gross injustice. Many Israelis say "So what! They got paid for their job and the time has come for them to go back to their original countries".      

The continuation of the occupation and the desire to prolong it by increasing settlement activity in the West Bank also means that the Palestinians living there are denied basic human rights in many instances. Added to this, is the fascist, hooligan right-wing Price Tag movement that reaps destruction on Palestinian property as well as injury.The government is soft on that and the police have not arrested anyone to date. When some Yitzhar settlers attacked and destroyed IDF property, an outcry from the Defense Minister was heard, and some suspects were apprehended.

Israel has an excellent intelligence system which is effective against Palestinian terror but impotent against Price Tag, whose vandalism against Palestinians and their property has been very ineffective - so much so that no arrests have been made. Freedom should also mean freedom from acts of violence. This is only partial and exclusive.

Celebrating the Festival of Freedom (Passover - Pesach) is hypocritical when we deny freedom to others and "do not welcome the stranger" in our midst. There is no more apt time of the year than the celebration of Pesach to give a thought to the strangers in our midst.

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Tuesday, April 8

The Illegal Settlement Enterprise and Peace Negotiations Collapse

English: Mahmoud Abbas
English: Mahmoud Abbas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Knesset committee has approved $51 million allocation to WZO (World Zionist Organization) settlement projects. Freedom of Information Law does not apply to the settlement division. This must give course of concern to the taxpayer. Whenever there is lack of transparency and unaccountability which is not covered by Freedom of Information Law then our eyebrows ought to be raised to the heavens with a big question mark.(Freedom of Information Law  5758 -1998)

How the money will be divided will be partly transparent. We shall not know how much goes to the West Bank Settlement projects. This explains the acceleration of building settlements in areas designated for the theoretical establishment of the Palestine State thus making the reality of two states for two peoples even more remote.

The way that the taxpayer's money for these illegal settlement projects in the West Bank will remain clandestine. When Netanyahu pays lip service to the two-state solution, we cannot take him at his word as the reality on the ground is the opposite.

Israel is no less credible than their Palestinian partners in the stalled peace talks. Both sides are seeking an opportunity to blame the other for the breakdown of the John Kerry mediated talks. Both parties are not carrying out the wishes of their respective peoples for a peace agreement, each for their own partisan reasons. Kerry is on record blaming Israel for the failure of the talks.

The demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish State is insipid and childish. This has never been a condition for other countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Therefore it cannot be seen as a threat to the status quo of Israel.

The talks have reached a stalemate as expected. Even John Kerry, like his predecessors, is fatigued and frustrated. The blame game is on the cards and the tilt is not in Israel's failure for two main reasons which are:

  1. The continuation of building settlements in the occupied West Bank.
  2. Israel had not carried out its promise of the fourth phase of freeing Palestinian prisoners.

The peace talks have collapsed and John Kerry has given up. This really comes as no surprise. Both sides are to blame. However, it seems that both sides are not putting in enough effort to avoid the collapse. Israel had refused to free the fourth round of prisoners as they had promised and at the same time the illegal settler-oriented Minister of Housing, Uri Ariel,  decided that the time was right to announce the building of another 700 housing units in disputed areas. Mahmoud Abbas has decided to take the whole matter to the UN as well as demanding membership of 15 UN agencies, as if Palestine is a fully fledged member of the UN. If Tzippi Livni blames the Housing Minister for responsibility of the talks collapsing then we must take her seriously. Perhaps it is not a bad idea if the Palestinians take the issue to the UN. It could jolt the talks back on track even though the chance is slim.

The collapse of the peace negotiations between the parties is because of futility. The talks were doomed from the start. However, it is not easy to blame either side equally as each side has its extremists, who are against a peace deal being signed.

There is a big question mark as to whether a peace treaty would have been signed had Israel agreed to the freeing of prisoners and the freezing of settlements. This scenario had occurred so often in the past with the players backing down from signing an agreement. This latest round of negotiations has reached the same old deadlock. The extremists in the Palestinian camp as well as extremists in the Israeli Government coalition are the two parties that determined the failure of the Kerry-mediated talks.

Israel would not be able to sign a peace agreement nor would the Palestinians. It is not because Uncle Sam is watching, but rather Hamas on the Palestinian side and Bennett and Company on the Israeli side. Netanyahu would like the talks to continue indefinitely. He will never agree to give up the West Bank, hence the continuous building of settlements. By continuing with talks “until the Messiah comes", Netanyahu safeguards his coalition. If he signs an agreement with the Palestinians, the right wing factions in his coalition will leave. On the Palestinian side, if Mahmoud Abbas signs an agreement with Israel, he will be viewed as a traitor by the hardliners, including Hamas. Paradoxically the negotiation charade, if it did not breakdown, would continue deadlocked indefinitely achieving nothing but photo opportunities. The whole peace negotiation process is an exercise in polemics to satisfy Uncle Sam. This has been going on since the moribund Oslo Agreements and it will continue after a period of negotiation cessation. Maybe a new US star negotiator will arise in the future to replace Kerry after the next US Presidential Elections.

At the same time, deadlock and stalemate is the name of the game. There is no imaginative leadership on either side willing to make the necessary concessions to achieve an end to this cruel, festering conflict.

John Kerry stated: "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot force him to drink".

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Wednesday, March 26

The Coupling of the Opposition and Ultra-Orthodox in Israel

A strange phenomenon, if not a paradox has occurred in Israeli politics. It is the coupling of the ultra-Orthodox parties with the left of center Labor Party. In my previous article, I mentioned the channeling of funds from ultra-Orthodox projects to Bayit Hayehudi settlement projects in the occupied West Bank. This has created a situation where the Shas and Torah Judaism Parties are becoming bedfellows of Labor.

The main reason for this new found cooperation is that Labor is not making an issue of conscription of the Haredim into the IDF. As I said, six of one (Zionist right wing religious Bayit Hayehudi Party) and half a dozen of the other (the ultra-Orthodox non-Zionist Parties) in the coalition is not in Israel's interests. The latter is preferable, as they have no problem with a two-state solution when it comes to peace with the Palestinians, as long as the government gives them money for their partisan projects.

The compulsory ballot is another trick in hypocrisy and stealth. It is also a populist tactic. Conscripting the ultra-Orthodox males would cost Israel an astronomical amount of money as the IDF would have to establish units that correspond to their lifestyle. This is in Kashrut, Torah study and rituals. In other words, the IDF would have to bend to the religious customs of the ultra-Orthodox conscripts rather than the other way round as in the case of secular and modern Orthodox conscripts. The government suspended financing the ultra-Orthodox projects but the Bennett Bayit Heyudi are getting the finances from the government for their own occupation projects such as settlement expansion, yeshivot, headed by extremist right wing racist rabbis as well as shortened army service (1 year and 5 months for those in Yeshivot Hesder) for the right wing, Zionist orthodox conscripts. Normal length of service for 18 year old males is 3 years. So where is the equality of burden in serving in the IDF? The right wing religious Zionists in the settlements beyond he green line have never had it so good. The priorities of the present government are financing further illegal settlement while decreasing financial aid to ultra-Orthodox projects.

The settlements in the West Bank are getting increased financial aid from the government. This makes the two-state solution more complicated to achieve.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that people on both sides of the conflict have an increased feeling of frustration. The negotiating teams on both sides are getting nowhere. The antics on both sides are to please John Kerry without delivering the goods, each side for their own partisan reasons which do not coincide. The two-state solution is dying and before long it will enter the critical phase of rigor mortis which is the point of no return.

While the acrobatics of peace negotiations proceeds, Bibi Netanyahu harps on about Iran in order to digress from the real problems that need to be addressed. The main problems are Israel's security and the occupation. The latter is weakening Israel's stand in the world as well as its credibility and human rights record. While Israel is viewed as a colonialist power in the West Bank by its actions of building new settlements unabated, the threat to Israel's democracy will remain. Democracy within the green line exists while in the occupied territories it does not. The apartheid state similarity in the territories just cannot be concealed anymore. World opinion always sides with the victim (Palestinians) and not with the victor (Israel). While Israel remains an occupying power, it will always be under severe criticism because the settlers get all the privileges while the conquered get nothing. This is the differentiation which strengthens the slogan of Israel being an apartheid state.

It appears, from Haaretz reports, that the government is giving a large budget to the West Bank settler enterprise. This issue has been raised in the Knesset by MK Stav Shaffir of the Labor Party. This confirms suspicions that the government does not intend to freeze settlements in occupied territories. It also gives another message of "pseudo-sharing "of the national burden of conscription into the IDF. In reality, the illegal settlers in the territories will be getting increasing government aid. When ex-Shin Bet chief lambasts Netanyahu's Likud as "shallow",we should take him seriously.

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Friday, March 7

Right wing religious settlers replacing ultra-Orthodox for Government Favors?

Ariel Uri Yehuda
Ariel Uri Yehuda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The latest mantra in Israel is equality in military service. This means that Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) will be enlisted to do army service like everybody else in Israel. Their National Insurance stipends will be cut and they will no longer reap the benefits of money from the state while they study Torah. Sounds just, if not altruistic, or in colloquial terms it is really "Israbluff".

Let us not fool ourselves into believing this. Money that has been channeled into Haredi institutions is now channeled into right-wing religious Zionist causes at their expense. The guru of these causes is the Minister of Economic Affairs and Religious Affairs, Naphtali Bennett. He is also the leader of the Bayit Hayehudi Party, an extreme right wing Zionist religious party that is not interested in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. He also seems to have considerable support and is an important person in the coalition that pressurizes Netanyahu.

PM Netanyahu is pandering to his right wing cronies and is giving them more attention than they deserve. The Bennett, Moshe Feiglin, Danon, Akunis and Elkin factions are steering the government into a dangerous, extremist, right wing direction. The illegal settlers have never had it so good. The present Minister of Housing, Uri Ariel, who is astrong supporter of the illegal settlements enterprise, shows very little concern for housing within the green line. His main concern is accelerated building in the occupied territories and killing the two state solution.

What is worse for Israel - money for the illegal settler enterprise and its right wing religious Zionist supporters, or the ultra-Orthodox institutions, which are non-Zionist? Both are bad for Israel. However the former is worse, while the latter has no problems with a solution to the conflict as long as their partisan requirements are met.

The right wing are against a two-state solution and are in favor of  prolonging the occupation indefinitely. They are against a settlement freeze and wish to continue usurping Palestinian Land destined to be part of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the future.

We have witnessed a massive demonstration of ultra-Orthodox communities in Jerusalem. The purpose is voicing their opposition to conscription into the IDF or even doing civilian national service. The amount of demonstrators who participated were estimated to be about 600 000.

The benefits given to settlers living in the occupied territories are good. They get taxation concessions, subsidized housing. Rates and municipal taxes are also less than in Israel within the green line.

On 4th March 2014, PM Netanyahu addressed AIPAC in the US. His speech to all intents and purposes was impressive. He said all the right things that members of AIPAC want to hear. He emphasized the danger of Iran in the Middle East and its hate of Israel and the US. It also happened that a day later, the Israeli Navy intercepted a ship with Iranian missiles destined for Gaza. This gave Netanyahu a much needed boost. Naturally Iran denied responsibility for the shipments.

After all who are the AIPAC members? Most of them are wealthy, diamond studded, armchair Zionists with good connections in the US Administration and are unaware of the omissions that Netanyahu purposefully made in his speech. They are also ignorant of many unpleasant realities in Israel. These realities are not pleasing to the ear or conscience of those concerned with basic human rights. Of course it is paradise compared to the bludgeon going in Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Hamas-ruled Gaza. He never spoke about the occupation or civil rights for the Palestinians in the occupied territories not being equal to those of the illegal settlers.

He also kept on harping ad nauseam about recognition of Israel as the Jewish State and making it a condition for recognition by the Palestinian leadership in order that negotiations proceed as if Israel's Jewish majority is not de facto.  No other country recognizing Israel has that condition attached, not even Egypt and Jordan, so why the Palestinians? Is that so important? It is enough that they recognize Israel as a state without the verbose description of its Jewishness. Israel is listed as the State of Israel on its official letterheads and not the Jewish State of Israel. The fact that the UN recognizes Israel as the State of Israel has not created a problem. Israel's leaders have not requested the UN to recognize Israel as the Jewish State of Israel. It is obvious that Netanyahu is pressurized by the extreme right in his party. They call the tone.

There are other omissions in Netanyahu's speech. The treatment of refugees from Darfur, Sudan and Eritrea does not exactly reflect the Jewish heart which Netanyahu is so proud of emphasizing. The treatment of foreign workers is shocking in many cases. The list goes on.

Young married couples have problems getting housing at reasonable prices. If they move to the occupied territories the benefits as mentioned earlier are there for the taking.

Netanyahu's speech had so many omissions that for those, who know the seamy side of Israel, felt these omissions conspicuous by their absence.

The occupation remains a serious obstacle in reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians as well as improving relations with the Arab world. No matter how much Israel's public relations campaign for Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East, and justifying the measures it takes for ensuring its security, will lack credibility. Israel's
Price Tag Vandalism against non-Jewish Holy Places

Demonstrations in Jerusalem against the ballot

Example of Price Tag Vandalism

PM Netanyahu addressing AIPAC
democracy falls short in the territories when it comes to the Palestinians. Destruction of Palestinian property by Price Tag hooligans goes unpunished. No arrests have been made. The settlers take the law into their own hands.

While the occupation and encouragement of settling in areas designated for the future Palestinian state continues, Israel's colonial image will remain and the Palestinians will be viewed as victims of that colonialism. White-washing this situation as well as digression by rhetoric on the Iranian threat to peace will not improve Israel's image. It adds grist to the mill of BDS supporters.

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Sunday, February 23

Religious Corruption in Israel

The deification of many establishment rabbis in high places is frightening. Added to this, are the large sums of money that is involved in this relationship. Recently the Israeli tycoon, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto has been involved in a very big scandal. He is listed as one of Israel`s richest rabbis.  Tycoons have always come to him for blessings and while receiving Pinto’s blessings, large sums of money probably land in his coffers.

The plot thickens and the list of suspects involved in the Pinto Affair gets more and more complicated. The cartel of those involved in misdemeanors or even crimes range from tycoons, businessmen, underworld figures, and some Knesset members, senior police officers involved in uncovering fraud, bribery, and corruption, money laundering and other crimes.

The belief in "Yehudo-Voodoo" among many Israelis is very strong, this is the stuff giving rabbinical charlatans enormous power, and this power creeps, like a cancer, into many business dealings. Bribery, corruption and blackmail are part of their trade. Large sums of money change hands. Some rabbis become very wealthy, and when questions are asked about the source of their wealth the answer inevitably is that "it comes from donations of supporters of these rabbis, who regard them as the ultimate spiritual authority in their lives". This somehow keeps the law enforcement authorities at bay for a while.

However, when rabbis start giving money to the "poor" such as high level police officers, who are responsible for inquiries into bribery and corruption, then it is reasonable to start asking questions as to whether the rabbi's relationship with law enforcement officers is proper.                                                             

At this stage, there is a lot of cloudiness over the whole investigation and much has to unfold. Pinto has tentacles with followers attached even in the U.S. Even an ex-FBI official is involved. This is only the beginning of all kinds of rabbinical monkey business going on, which is also an embarrassment to the Israeli Police. One of its top crime investigation officers is also on suspicion of being caught up in this rabbinical web of iniquity. It seems that the tip of the iceberg of crime in rabbinical circles has been scratched. More red faces under the cloak and dagger of Torah will soon be revealed. It should be of deep concern to law-abiding citizens in Israel, who pay taxes. Much of the money from these taxes go to the running of corrupt institutions responsible for maintaining the chief rabbinate and other yeshivot of dubious repute.

Meanwhile, Major General Menashe Arviv, who commanded Lahav 433, a unit popularly known as the "Israeli FBI," which includes the fraud squad, serious and international crimes unit, and the financial investigations unit, has resigned as the noose round his neck tightens. This does not mean that he will not be brought to trial.  Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha – the commander of the national fraud squad – in 2012 was also involved. Pinto is suspected of trying to bribe Bracha in return for information on the investigation being conducted against him. Pinto was also the target of a joint investigation by the authorities in the United States and Israel, into the suspected misuse of funds at Hazon Yeshaya, a nonprofit controlled by the rabbi and his wife.

This rather complicated business does not seem to have an end at this stage. Surprises occur all the time. Apart from suspicions of bribing senior police officers and associating with crime king-pins like Shlomo Domrani, Pinto has an amazing cartel of tycoons and characters.Some of his associates and "friends" have criminal records.One of Pinto's aides in the past, Ben Zion Suky, is connected to porn sales and has a host of legal problems. The impression is that Rabbi Pinto is not such a "tzadik" (saint) as most of his followers believe. Pinto is a shrewd businessman. He is a multimillionaire because "God was good to him as he is a great example of humility and saintliness". I have a feeling of deja vu. There is some similarity here to the reaction of his followers against the investigation of this rabbi and the reaction of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in the bribery and corruption case involving Aryeh Deri of Shas some years ago.Yosef proclaimed Deri's innocence in public.

Prosecutors are now busy turning the 10-page document detailing these suspicions into an indictment, as Pinto waived his right to a hearing. The likely charges will include offering bribes, obstructing an investigation, suborning witnesses, making threats and money laundering. Pinto denies all the allegations.

The saga unfolds and is far from completion as everyday a new twist occurs. There is a dangerous trend in Israel. The Rabbi Pinto Case is an example of what happens when rabbis have tremendous power and influence over the lives of citizens in theocratic Israel. They fill the observant Jewish Israeli mind with religious muck and many of these religious people become dependent on the teachings and purveyors of pseudo-religious superstitions. This involves purchasing religious cameos against "the evil eye" and all kinds of folklore, including other pseudo-religious paraphernalia. There are rabbis with enormous powers in the eyes of the superstitious observant, who are grist to the mill in the talons of these charismatic, rabbinical ignoramuses, many of whom have great influence in high places in the rabbinate. These rabbis feel that they are above the law and have the right to bribe government officials whether they are high ranking officers in the Israeli Police Force or even in the government. They are the "Rasputins of Israel". Some are also faith healers such as the X-ray Rabbi Ifergan, who is wealthy in his own right.

Rabbi Yeshiyahu Pinto

The following is a list of Israel's wealthiest rabbis: 

1. Rabbi Pinchas Abuhatzeira – NIS 1,300,000,000
2. Rabbi David Abuhatzeira – NIS 750,000,000
3. Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter – NIS 350,000,000
4. Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokea
– NIS 180,000,000
5. Rabbi Nir Ben Artzi – NIS 100,000,000
6. Rabbi Yaakov Ifargin – NIS 75,000,000
7. Rabbi Yeshayahu Pinto – NIS 75,000,000
8. Rabbi Baruch Abuhatzeira – NIS 50,000,000
9. Rabbi Reuven Elbaz – NIS 40,000,000
10. Rabbi Yoram Abargil – NIS35,000,000

The corruption in religion occurs because of the monopoly held by establishment orthodox rabbis in Israel. They do not recognize other religious streams in Judaism. A glaring example of Orthodox Judicial hegemony is non-recognition of Conservative, Progressive and Reconstructionist streams in Judaism. These non-Orthodox streams in Judaism cannot perform marriage ceremonies recognized in Israel because they are not recognized by the Orthodox Establishment. The reason is competition and loss in financial profit that goes into the orthodox establishment rabbinical coffers and not so much because of Halacha as they claim. Let us not be naïve.

The doctrinaire and intolerant behavior of the Orthodox Rabbinical Establishment in Israel drives many Jews from the fold including the writer of this article.

The Rabbi Pinto corruption scandal is a symptom of the disease and it is only a matter of time before more corrupt orthodox rabbis are uncovered in their quest to make a quick buck from the religious believers seeking a sop for their problems.


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