A National Holiday

Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, is a national holiday in Israel. It is not a religious holiday like so many in the Jewish calendar, there is no praying, no commemorating past horrors, no introspection. On Yom Ha’atzmaut the emphasis is on eating and having fun.

This year I went with my daughter and her husband’s group of friends, who all went to the University of Maryland; with their children they now make a crowd of about 30 people. We went to the new lake in Beersheva. Some of you might wonder, what is a lake doing in the middle of a desert. Good question, I don’t know how they did it, but it’s there, and around it is a whole wonderful park, with a fountain and still in construction there will be restaurants and boating and all sorts of amusements. We walked around the whole of the lake, which is the second biggest in Israel.

The place was crowded, packed with people and cars everywhere. People walking around, people barbecuing, people playing with their children. And overhead the annual fly-past of the planes of the IAF. All very exciting and enjoyable. After the tour we drove home and had a wonderful meal and barbecue. Even though our country is in a political mess, there were no concerns, everybody had a good time.

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut

Tonight starts Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron) when we remember all the ca. 24,000 citizens and soldiers who have fallen in all the wars and terrorism that have been forced upon us by the intransigent Arabs. This is not to be confused with Yom Hashoah that was last week, that commemorated the Six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust (Shoah) of WWII in Europe. I compare these two numbers, which shows that having an army to defend us Jews saves about 5.98 million lives. Does anyone have any illusions that if the Arabs had won any of the wars they inflicted on us, all the Jews in Israel would have been murdered by rampaging Arab armies and civilian collaborators, much as they were in Europe during WWII. This goes to prove that Zionism is right, having a State and an army to defend it is the sine qua non of survival for the Jews.

Immediately following Yom Hazikaron is the celebration of Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut). It is uniquely Jewish to have the bitter and the sweet of these two events so closely linked. We know without a shadow of doubt that without the sacrifice of the fallen, we would not be able to celebrate the latter. From the depths of WWII that ended in 1945, the State of Israel was founded in 1948, scarcely a day later. But, we must remember that this resulted not only from the sacrifices and sufferings of the Shoah, but from the slow patient building that took place in our restored homeland starting from the 1880’s. Jews came and settled in a what was a God-forsaken backwater of the Turkish Empire, and began to build.

Today we have a thriving and strong State, that is modern, innovative and economically viable. The population is 9.3 million, including 2 million Israeli Arabs. They are treated as equal citizens, there is no institutional discrimination, they are treated better than the blacks in the USA, the Muslims in the UK and Europe and the Christians in the Arab world. Arabs in Israel are in all walks of life and all professions. If you don’t believe me come and see for yourself, or look on-line. By chance I happened to watch an Israeli movie last night, “Asia,” which has nothing to do with Asia, but is the name of the female lead. It takes place in Haifa, where Arabs and Jews mix freely, and the young male in the film is an Arab. It is a touching human drama.

Last Sunday, the nuclear facility at Natanz in Iran was struck by an explosion and a power outage, that resulted in the destruction of the newly installed upgraded centrifuges that were intended to separate highly enriched uraninium-235, that can only be used for making a bomb. It has been widely reported that Israel was responsible for this attack. Those many who hate Jews and Israel, who often complain that Israel is an aggressive, colonial military power, should take note of this and previous similar attacks. No lives were lost in this attack. Israel does not want war with Iran, but Israel must and will defend itself. At present the best way to do this is to prevent Iran from achieving an atomic bomb, that it would undoubtedly drop on Israel (killing Jews and Arabs alike). Such attacks are done to ensure that Israelis will continue to commemorate Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Pollard Was Right!

This is a letter I sent to the Jerusalem Post in response to an article they published:

Sir: I profoundly disagree with the view of Douglas Bloomfield as expressed in his article Pollard Still Wrong (JP, April 8).  There are several situations in which a US citizen can break an oath to obey orders, including being given an illegal order, such as a soldier being ordered by a superior officer to kill civilians. I had the following letter published in the Washington Jewish Week on 26/3/1987 saying the following: 

The concept of divided loyalty has been resurrected by the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard as a challenge to the authenticity of Jews as Americans. I confess that I, too, am guilty. I am not only loyal to two countries. I am loyal to three. I am an Anglo-Jewish immigrant to the US and therefore I have tri-vided loyalty!

I would like to think that if Britain was in a state of war and surrounded by enemies, and I could supply her with vital information to save her brave citizens and soldiers, that I would do so. In fact this is precisely what happened in World War Il, between 1939 and the time the US. entered the war in 1941. Of course, President Roosevelt was very cooperative in supporting Britain during that terrible period, but it is certain that U.S. secrets were leaked to Britain by sympathetic Americans, contrary to U.S. law.

As a Jew, I share a strong identification with Israel, the only sovereign Jewish country in the world. Do most American Jews act clandestinely in support of Israel? Of course not, for we make no secret of our active support for Israel. Apparently the U.S. has been withholding vital information from Israel, and with Israel’s narrow margin of security in the Middle East this appears to me to be inconsistent with the actions of a good ally, It is true that neither Pollard nor I can know all the factors involved in the sharing Of particular secrets. But I would like to think that if I had been in his shoes I would have done the same thing. Many American Jews may feel intimidated from saying so, and many may vociferously disagree, but that is my hope, no less than for Britain under the same circumstances.

I hope I would not have been quite as foolhardy as Pollard seems to have been. and I doubt that I would have trusted the Israelis as much, but the stakes were high. and once the decision is made the choices narrow. Under the circumstances anyone who breaks the law and spies must expect to receive a severe penalty, and not expect the country for which he spies to accept responsibility. In this case Israel is apparently prepared to sacrifice Pollard for the importance that they place on the U.S. relationship. However, the fact that the verdict for the Pollards was as great as those meted out to spies for America’s enemies is quite shocking. I would hope that Israel would act behind the scenes to eventually effect a release of the Pollards to Israel. Does anyone think that the U.S. does not spy on Israel?

The times are long since past when Jews will be intimidated by charges of divided loyalty and the re-hashing of the canards of the past. We have suffered and learnt too much for that. So just as my divided loyalty to Britain does not decrease my loyalty to the U.S., neither does my support for Israel. I can be just as critical of Margaret Thatcher’s policies as those of Shimon Peres and Ronald Reagan.

My loyalty is to an America that acts as an honest ally to democratic countries around the world with which we have mutual interests.  JACK S. COHEN Bethesda, Md

Yours sincerely, Jack Cohen Professor

Unexpected Consequences in War

There are many unintended consequences in war. Here are some examples:

  1. Operation Barbarossa: Jonathan Dimbleby has written a new book Barbarossa: How Hitler Lost the War in which he now rejects the conclusion of his previous book, The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War, and now concludes that in fact it was the Germans who lost WWII because of Hitler’s impossible gamble of Operation Barbarossa. By throwing the bulk of his armed forces into the invasion of Russia (total estimated 3.3 million men) in June 1941 and getting bogged down in the winter there, he allowed the Russians to take advantage of their superior manpower and production capabilities. By dividing his forces before the attack on Moscow and having impossibly long and tenuous supply lines, Hitler overestimated the ability of his soldiers to overcome the dogged resistance and then superior generalship in the Soviet counter-attacks, especially at Stalingrad and Kharkov. He essentially prepared no significant defensive lines and so Operation Barbarossa, however brutal and massive its consequences, was the true cause of the downfall of Nazi ambition.
  2. Operation Michael: In WWI, after 4 years of stalemate of trench warfare, the German Generals running the war, Gens. Ludendorff and Hindenberg, saw their opportunity In 1917, The revolution in Russia took them out of the war, so the Germans moved a million troops from the eastern front to the western front to take the initiative.  They decided on a major breakthrough named Operation Michael in the center of the Front between the main French and British armies, in an area where there was no strategic objectives and so the defenses were weakest. Indeed when they struck they broke through and advanced more in 3 days than they had done in 4 years.  Ludendorff thought this would win them the war, before the Americans arrived on the Allies side.  Then things went wrong, the German troops advanced so fast against little resistance that their supplies of ammunition and food ran out. Also, there was no specific objective to this massive attack.  Under pressure from his officers, Ludendorff, almost on the point of collapse, decided that they should take the nearby town of Amiens.  But the French brought up their army and decided to make a stand at Amiens.  They held off the Germans, who had great losses, and then the British and Americans arrived on the scene and attacked with tanks, that was the first major tank success in military history.  The battle of Amiens in 1918 was a major disaster for the Germans, who without adequate supplies of ammunition and food, were defeated.  German losses in both Operation Michael and the Battle of Amiens were ca. 350,000 dead.  This brought about the surrender of the German forces and the end of WWI. 
  3. Pearl Harbor: The surprise attack by Japanese aerial-naval forces on Pearl Harbor In Dec, 1941, seemed like a stroke of genius at the time. The Japanese thought that without their navy, the US would be unable to retaliate. But, they failed to follow up on their devastating attack to try to capture the Hawaiian islands or attack the US west coast. As Admiral Yamamoto foresaw, “We have awakened a sleeping giant.” The Japanese also failed to destroy the US aircraft carriers, which were later used to destroy their own navy. But, also, several days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler unilaterally declared war on the US, which left Pres. Roosevelt able to declare war against Germany, which led in turn to D-Day and that allowed the Soviet Union under Stalin to counter-attack in the east and grind down the German armies. Sic transit gloria mundi.
  4. The Yom Kippur War: In 1973, in a surprise coordinated attack the three neighboring Arab countries Egypt, Syria and Jordan, attacked Israel with the intention of destroying it. Israel was totally unprepared for this attack due to incredible failures in intelligence, and was caught on the defensive. After initial successes the Arab armies foolishly assumed they had already won and acted accordingly. All the Arab armies advanced beyond their original objectives without preparation and enabled the IAF to attack their columns because Israel retained air supremacy. This also allowed the IDF ground forces to reorganize and counter-attack, and in a stroke of genius Gen. Ariel Sharon crossed to the west bank of the Suez Canal and surrounded the main Egyptian forces. Also, on the Golan, a few determined Israeli tanks held off hundreds of ill-prepared Syrian tanks. This reversal of fortunes resulted in the defeat of the Arab armies and was in effect their last attempt to seriously challenge the existence of the Israeli state.
  5. Iran: The Iranian leadership should be aware of these historical precedencies while they continually threaten war against Israel.

Iran, the Palestinians, the US and Israel

The US and Iran are conducting negotiations in Geneva on renewing the nuclear agreement (the JCPOA) from which the Trump Administration withdrew. Because Iran continued developing enriched uranium for the purpose of making a nuclear weapon, Trump imposed severe sanctions against Iran. After Biden was elected President, Iran announced that it would negotiate with the US on renewing the agreement, but only after the sanctions were first removed! The Biden Administration refused to do this, but negotiations are nevertheless taking place. But, to save face Iran refused to negotiate directly with the US and the negotiations are taking place through a third European intermediary. It is reported that during these negotiations Iran is taking a hard line, namely they refuse to rejoin the agreement unless the US first cancels all sanctions. It is unlikely that Biden and his Secty of State Antony Blinken would agree to this. At the same time, PM Netanyahu, who has always been the leader of the anti-Iran squad, stated point-blank during his address at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Jerusalem that Israel would not be bound by any agreement the US makes with Iran, because any agreement is worthless because they are proven liars.

Regarding the Palestinians, Biden has made two major changes recently. He reinstated some m$250 of aid to the Palestinians, thru payments to UNRWA and to the PA that Trump had cancelled. Note that aid to the Palestinians is strictly speaking illegal due to the Taylor Force Act passed by Congress following the stabbing death of US marine Taylor Force in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist. And Biden reiterated his support for the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This is a typical liberal position that has been the policy of most Western countries for some 50 years. But, it has never worked and it never will. This is because Biden and others tend to equate the positions and motivations of Israel and the Palestinians thru a Western lens, without taking account of the reality that doesn’t fit their preconceived notions.

First of all it is wrong to equate Israel and the Palestinians, Israel is a long-standing member state of the UN, it is a working democracy and is both affluent and advanced with a population of 9.3 million people and it is a strong US ally. The PA is a non-state entity that has been run as a dictatorship and is split into two irreconcilable groups, the nationalist Fatah on the West Bank (2.7 million) and the Islamist Hamas in Gaza (2 million), neither of which are prepared to either recognize Israel or negotiate with it. They are also anti-American. Trump and Kushner were right on this, in order to make progress, it is necessary to circumvent the intransigent Palestinians and go directly to the other Arab countries who have common interests with Israel, both in terms of moderation, modernization and opposition to Iran. Going back to the “two-state solution” shows that liberals never learn, putting sentiment before reality, and is a sure formula for failure and disappointment.

On both the issues of Iran and the Palestinians, Biden has widened the gap between the US and Israel. But, Israel need not worry, because both Iran and the Palestinians are intransigent and they will never compromise their intentions of destroying Israel, so no progress can be made in either case. Far better to work with the Sunni Arab States that have common pro-Western interests with Israel.

The Painted Bird

I watched the recent movie of “The Painted Bird,” a harrowing tale of the Holocaust attributed to Jerzy Kosinski. This post is being written in commemoration of Israeli Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), which started last night with the National ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The film is in black and white and quite stark and is not easy watching and some of the incidents are horrific. The story depicts the experiences of a young Jewish boy whose parents have been murdered, who wanders around eastern Poland and whose fate depends on the whims of Polish peasants. The story depicts the primitive beliefs and violent lives of these peasants, and how the boy manages to survive despite them. I can vouch for the credibility of the story from two personal testimonies I am familiar with.

One of my friends in Netanya is Eddie Bielawski, whose family managed to survive in hiding going from place to place in eastern Poland. His stories of interactions with Polish peasants were eerily similar to those in this story. I helped Eddie publish his memoir entitled “Invisible Jews: surviving the Holocaust in Poland.” Another personal testimony was by a scientific colleague of mine in the US who I only found out many years after knowing him that he too had survived the Holocaust in Poland. He was given to a Polish family who were paid by his parents to look after him, when they were deported, but they sent him to a nunnery. This was bombed and he was sent to another Catholic institution where he was indoctrinated. Only by chance an English Rabbi touring eastern Europe searching for Jewish orphans found him and he eventually managed to reach the US.

The title comes from the practice by some Polish peasants of taking a bird and painting it and then releasing it to rejoin its flock, whereupon the other birds attack it and peck it to death, because they don’t recognize it as one of their own. It is clearly meant to be a symbol for the Holocaust. Jerzy Kosinski was born Josef Lewinkopf, and although he at first claimed that the story was based on his own experiences, it turns out that he survived the war in central Poland living as Poles with his parents and protected by Polish friends. There was some controversy about this story, it was reported that Kosinski had plagiarized the story from a young French Jewish writer who had not survived. There were several other accusations of plagiarism, including his other famous work, “Being There.” Jerzy Kosinski committed suicide in 1991 in NYC.

Israel Election Stalemate Again

Here is my letter that was published in the Jerusalem Post on Monday April 4:

Sir: I agree with PM Netanyahu, the electorate gave his party the largest support, 30 seats, almost twice as many as the next party, Yesh Atid of Yair Lapid with 17 seats.  Therefore Bibi should be asked to form the next government. Also, the electorate voted mainly for right wing parties, so they should naturally form a stable coalition, Yamina of Naftali Bennett (7), UTJ (7), Shas (9), New Hope of Gideon Sa’ar (6), Religious Zionists (6), making a total of 65 seats, a clear majority and a stable government.  These minor characters, Bennett and Sa’ar, who are busy telling Bibi not to put his own interests before those of the country should heed their own words.  They should put the country before their own desires to replace Bibi and form a stable coalition with him.  If not, the electorate will never forgive them. Sincerely, Jack Cohen 

Since then President Reuven Rivlin has made a public statement that all things aside (including any moral judgement on Bibi’s indictment for corruption, etc.), a majority of parties have expressed their support for PM Bibi Netanyahu, and so he has no option but to first give him the task of forming a coalition government from the new Knesset. The problem is that the obvious candidates to form a right wing coalition with him as I indicated in my letter above, Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope, have taken a strong anti-Bibi stance and will not form a coalition with him, at least that is what they have been saying so far, rather they want to replace him. If Bibi were to offer them top Ministerial positions and deputy PM roles or even alternate PM, then that might persuade them. Or he might agree to become President of Israel when Rivlin retires next year and then they could alternate as PM’s.

But these are stretches of the imagination, because, in order to reach over 60 seats Bibi has been having discussions with the Arab Party Ra’am, that is in discussions with both Bibi and the opposition leader Yair Lapid. But, at least one of the right wing parties, Religious Zionists, have stated that they refuse to enter a government that includes an Arab Party, so if he should gain Ra’am but loses RZ, and possibly other Jewish religious parties, what has he gained. This is the conundrum that Bibi faces, unwilling partners. But, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid is far from being able to form a coalition majority, and also Bennett, whose faction has only 7 seats, yet has the chutzpah to offer himself as a potential PM, has almost no chance. Politics makes strange bed-fellows, and unless some strange coalitions are formed, it looks as if we are in for another – the fifth – election!

Baby Oil

Many people suffer from itching skin, that results from dryness. I get rashes around my ankles and used to have them on my thighs too. The best treatment that I have found for this condition, often called eczema, is baby oil. I just rub a handful of the clear transparent liquid into my skin, and voila, the rash and itching are gone in minutes. I won’t name the main producer of this pure product, but their initials are J&J. I had no problem using this wonderful treatment, until someone asked me “how many babies are sacrificed in order to produce a bottle of baby oil?” I must say this question stopped me in my tracks, I had never thought of it before. Was I needlessly adding to the suffering of the least able to protect themselves members of the human family? How do they make baby oil, by squeezing babies, do they suffer?

I remember some time ago being struck by the message on a bumper sticker, “Save the Gay Whales.” I had never thought of this before, every one is up in arms trying to save the heterosexual whales so that they reproduce, but what about the gay whales, shouldn’t someone be advocating for them, all alone and without a clear reason to be saved. Isn’t the issue of baby oil another human rights issue. I am sure there are some good, caring, tree-hugging liberals out there who will want to take up this issue and start a campaign, “stop baby suffering, stop making baby oil.”

Before all you vegan, immigrant-loving, leftist liberal demonstrators, who wanted to get rid of Trump and now want to get rid of Bibi, start a letter-writing campaign to J&J, please look up the word “satire” in the dictionary. And if you haven’t done so, ask your neighbor if he has stopped beating his wife, and ask the Irish PM to stop eating their babies, just because they once had a potato famine. And don’t forget to save the gay whales.

Palestinian Election Crisis

Elections to Palestinians are the opposite of elections to Israelis. Israel has had four elections in two years, Palestinians have had no elections in 15 years. The last election in the Palestine Authority was in 2006, when Mahmud Abbas became President after Yasir Arafat’s death. Yet the PA was formed according to the Oslo Accords to provide a basis for the development of self-government for the Palestinians. To try to show themselves as “democratic” Abbas finally agreed to hold elections. The PA Legislative Council Elections are due to be held on May 22, and the Palestinian Presidential elections in July.

It was expected that there would be two parties running in the Legislative Council elections, Fatah and Hamas, that controls Gaza. You have to realize that running in and losing an election in the PA is not just losing power, it can mean death to you and your followers. This is really playing hard-ball, playing for keeps. So when it was announced by Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Kidwa that he was forming a separate list, supposedly within Fatah, to oppose the corruption of Abbas and his followers, this caused great concern. To try to prevent this, Abbas had Fatah expel Kidwa, and so his list became essentially illegal. But, to give it more support, Marwan Barghouti, who is serving a life’s sentence in an Israeli jail for organizing terrorism against Israeli civilians during the second intifada, joined the list with al-Kidwa. This list is seen as a major threat to Abbas in the upcoming election.

But, then a third Fatah list surfaced, the so-called “Future” list led in absentia by Mohammed Dahlan, a former rival of Abbas, who was ousted as Head of Security in Gaza by Hamas and then expelled from the PA by Abbas. He escaped to the UAE where he became the adviser on Palestinian affairs to the ruling Sheikh. He represents a clear challenge to the rule of Abbas within Fatah. There are rumors that if he is elected the Palestinians will change course and make peace with Israel, but this is unsubstantiated.

However, then things became more complicated when Abbas submitted his list of candidates to the Central Elections Commission in Ramallah last Friday. It was considered to be made up purely of Abbas loyalists and left out many Fatah veterans. As a result Fatah gunmen took to the streets around the West Bank to voice their opposition to Abbas’s list. In Jenin scores of gunmen fired into the air and suspended their membership of Fatah to express their opposition to Abbas. In the Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, gunmen opened fire at the home of Ziyyad al-Hamouz, who is included in Abbas’s list. At the Shuafat refugee camp, gunmen set fire to a women’s center headed by Jihad abu Zneid, also on Abbas’s list.

Readers may have noted that these divisions within Fatah could split the vote and result in Hamas winning the election. This would be a disaster for the Palestinians and for Israel. No self-respecting US President, even Joe Biden, who has just reinstated US aid to the PA, could give money to a Government run by an organization recognized as a terrorist group by the US. And no Israeli Government could accept the PA to be run by this terrorist organization that is dedicated to the destruction of Israel (although the Israeli Govt. has said it will not intervene in the PA elections). There have been rumors that Abbas wants to cancel the elections, because he knows that if his official Fatah faction loses, it could mean his death, and if Hamas wins it could mean the end of Fatah altogether. Compared to this the Israeli election stalemate seems mild by comparison.

I Lost my Elephant

As strange as it may seem, I lost my elephant. Of course this was not a normal sized elephant, if it were I could hardly have lost it. This was a tiny silver elephant on a chain around my neck that was a present from my wife.

Here’s the story how I acquired it.  Many years ago a professor from Copenhagen University worked in my lab in NCI in Bethesda MD.  His name was Jerzy Jarozewski, clearly a Polish name.  How come he was Danish. Well in the 1950’s the President of communist Poland Gomulka enacted antisemitic laws that deprived Jews of any government jobs. Jerzy had fallen in love with a red-haired Jewish girl at Warsaw University where they were both studying. Her parents were both fired from their jobs, and were expelled from Poland and managed to claim refugee status in Sweden. But their daughter stayed in Warsaw to finish her studies. When she did, she could not claim refugee status in Sweden, but managed to move to study in Denmark. Jerzy faced a choice, stay in Poland or go with her to Denmark. He chose the latter, and eventually became a professor at Copenhagen University.

What has this to do with my elephant you might ask. Well Jerzy and I became friends and he invited me several times to Denmark, mainly for scientific conferences of the Benzon Foundation that he organized. The Benzon pharmaceutical company is one of the largest in Denmark, and they put on some of the most opulent conferences. Copenhagen is in fact a relatively small city and in the downtown area there was one tall building that belongs to SAS, the Scandinavian Airlines System. My wife and I were put up in this hotel, near the top floor. One of my fondest memories is watching the weekly fireworks of the famous Tivoli Gardens from above.

Back to the elephant. My wife went on several outings to places such as the famous Louisiana modern art gallery 35 km outside the city, while I was at the conference. But one place we went together was to Fredericksborg Castle, a magnificent Castle in Hillerod about 60 km north of Copenhagen. We toured the Castle and the adjacent Church, that is very old and contains the shields of the original aristocratic families of Denmark. They belonged to an ancient fellowship, the Order of the Elephant, whose emblem was – the elephant. We went into the nearby gift shop and while we were looking around, unknown to me my wife Naomi bought me a little silver elephant on a chain as a memento.

It has not escaped my notice that the elephant is a symbol of memory, and my wife, years later, contracted Alzheimer’s disease. I have thought of this elephant as a reminder that I am the only repository of our mutual memories. I am very upset that I have lost it, when I got home from a visit to the gym yesterday, the open necklace was still around my neck but the elephant was gone. I retraced my steps and asked at the gym, but it was not there. I am now preparing to contact Fredericksborg Castle to see if I can replace it.