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Archive for February, 2012

“When dawn came, the skies were clear, the trees gave off their fragrance and the earth emitted its own pleasing odor. It seemed as if the whole creation was praying: the birds were chirping overhead, the frogs were croaking in the ponds, the rooster was crowing in the yard, the water was muttering its soft gurgle, and the forest making its gentle murmur.”

From Light And Fire of the Baal Shem Tov by Yitzhak Buxbaum

I love that passage and the book it comes from. It’s a passage that always comes to mind as Spring arrives.

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In some Middle East countries women are not allowed to drive or to vote. In Iran, it is enshrined in law that a women’s life is worth half that of a man. In many buildings in Saudi Arabia there are separate entrances for men and women. Rape and domestic violence are carried out with impunity in some Middle Eastern states, due to laws that protect the male perpetrators and often actually criminalise the female victims.

Meanwhile, as a beacon of light amid this darkness, stands Israel, where three major political parties are currently led by women. The President of the Supreme Court is Dorit Beinisch. Women serve in the army. And, lest we forget, Golda Meir became the first female Prime Minister of Israel in 1969 – a full 10 years before the UK had its first female leader. America has yet to even come close to a female President.

I love it when people use the feminine pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ to refer to countries. Such usage is particularly apt for the state of Israel. Long may she shine.

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Our wonderful dog Barnaby passed away this week, at the age of 11. He was fun, lovely and loving throughout his life.

Thank you to everyone who have sent such kindly messages this week, including Israelinurse who raised a glass to Barn in her local in the Golan.

Someone sent me the following piece of writing, which is very beautiful indeed.

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

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When I spoke at Kenton Synagogue recently I mentioned that over the last 11 years I have read well over 50 books about Israel and related issues. An audience member approached me afterwards to suggest I write a post comprising of a selection of recommended books, with a short description of each.

So I did. This is not necessarily a ‘top 20′, and it includes a few books about non-Israeli issues.

Israel: A Historyby Sir Martin Gilbert
This was probably the key book in making me understand the case for Israel and also decide I just had to visit the place. Authoritative, readable, fascinating and inspiring. Nice photographs, too.

The Case for Israelby Alan Dershowitz
A powerful book that needs little introduction by me. To be read particularly critically.

Holy Land, Unholy War: Israelis and Palestiniansby Anton La Guardia
This was one of the first books I read on Israel and the Palestinians. It comes closer than most to neutrality on this most fiery of issues. One of those vivid books that transports you to the place you’re reading about.

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner
A phenomenally good read from a man with decades of insider experience of Israeli politics. Menachem Begin emerges as the star of this breath-taking tome that takes you into the heart of the history of Israel’s governments. Magnificent, magnificent stories.

Israel is Realby Rich Cohen
A quirky, highly-original and at times engagingly personal take on the history of Israel. His chapter on the Six Day War is particularly breathtaking.

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The fascinating Rabbi Nachman of Breslov used to sometimes roll around in the snow as part of his ascetic approach to connection with God.

You won’t catch me doing that anytime soon, but I did take some photographs of the snow as I walked through Windsor this morning. I’m normally not that good at photography, but I was quite pleased with this morning’s efforts.

You can see the others here, here, here and here.

Meanwhile, as far as the snow goes my feeling now is a big, fat: “Enough already!”

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Last autumn I gave-up blogging after tiring of the abuse that flies around online. I explained in my Jewish Chronicle column how, since I had started blogging about Israel, I had discovered the cruelties of the web.

I wrote: ‘Blogs, discussion forums and other online platforms allow for anonymous comments to be made. People hurl abuse and threats around, with negligible fear of being identified. They never see the faces of those they attack, nor are they aware of the hurt that is caused by their comments – hurt that can spread from the recipient to their loved ones too. Not that some of the attackers would care.’

I added that I had stopped blogging because: ‘I just want to stop feeling sick when I log on to my computer. I’ve had enough of going to bed at night with abusive comments ringing in my ears, then waking up to a fresh load of unpleasantness, much of it left by anonymous, shadowy authors.’

Eventually I decided to continue blogging. One reason was that I wanted to use OyVaGoy to raise awareness of the issue of online bullying. This week the BBC broadcast an interesting Panorama documentary on the topic. It included an interview with the brilliant X Factor star Cher Lloyd, who has suffered relentless and vicious attacks online.

One example came when she sent a ‘Tweet’ to her fans announcing that it was her mother’s birthday. She immediately received a reply that read: ‘shut the f*** up before I kill your mum in front of you.’

Sadly, such threatening online abuse is commonplace, and young people are particularly suffering. Up to 43 percent of children under 16 have experienced cyber-bullying in the previous 12 months, and not enough is being done about this. No wonder children are being driven to despair and even suicide by internet harassment.

Beatbullying, a group working to counter online abuse, was featured on the documentary. You can read more about its work here. You can watch the Panorama documentary here. I really respect Panorama for raising this issue.

I also respect Cher Lloyd, not just for the brave way she has spoken-out over online abuse, but also for her brilliant music. Her mother must be very proud of her.

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Gilad Shalit has made his first trip outside Israel since his release. He met President Sarkozy in Paris.

It’s good to see him out and about. Nice scarf, too.

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A couple of years ago I had an interesting meeting in Jerusalem with a senior IDF figure. Among many other topics, we discussed the Mavi Marmara incident. I asked her why on earth the IDF, knowing the true agenda of those on the ship, dropped those commandos into the mouth of the beast.

Surely, I said, there must have been a way of dealing with the ships that didn’t involve risking the lives of the IDF commandos? “Listen,” she told me, “we had a bunch of lousy options and that was the least lousy.”

That phrase comes to mind when I consider the future of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. When groups like J-Street and Yachad argue that Israel risks an apartheid-like situation if it stays there, the more robotically-minded of Israel’s supporters shriek the distasteful and reductive “self-hating Jew!” accusation at them.

Like much – but not all – of the criticism aimed at J-Street and Yachad, this is unfair.

After all, Ehud Barak – Israel’s most decorated soldier – said: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” Similarly, Yitzhak Rabin, one of Israel’s most dedicated statesmen, said that sovereignty over the West Bank was “an illusion” that would result in “a racist Jewish state”.

In his interesting book A New Voice For Israel, Jeremy Ben-Ami posits a simple but disturbing equation for the future of Israel and the West Bank. He writes that, going forward, Israel will have to choose two of three things: to be a Jewish state, to be a democracy, to remain in the West Bank.

He argues that it will soon only be possible to be two of those things. Israel can remain in the West Bank and remain a democracy – but then it will quickly lose its Jewish identity. Or it can remain in the West Bank, remain Jewish and cease to be a democracy. Or it can withdraw from the West Bank and remain both Jewish and democratic.

Put like that, the third option is the most attractive on paper. However, that’s easy to write as I sit here in east Berkshire, what if I lived in west Jerusalem? Withdrawing from the West Bank now would put Israel’s two biggest cities, its airport, financial districts, gas storage plants and around four million people directly in the line of rocket fire.

I don’t see that risk evaporating anytime soon, nor do I see any Israeli leader wanting to take that risk in the foreseeable future. After all, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza it emboldened its enemies and terror attacks increased.

So, if Israel is going to stay in the West Bank for the foreseeable future, by the reasoning of Ben-Ami, Barak and Rabin, it will soon have to surrender either its Jewish or democratic identity.

Talk about a bunch of lousy options. I’m hoping that one of you will show me that Ben-Ami’s equation is wrong.

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OyVaGoy is three years old this week. So let’s see how the blog looked at the beginning of February 2009:

Sigh, I wish I still could look like I did in the photograph on the top-right of that page.  But elsewhere on that page I see the Gilad Shalit campaign button and am overjoyed afresh that he is now free.

Thank you for reading the blog over the years!

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.