Pondering on Pesach

I am sorry that the Notre Dame Cathedral burnt down, but I feel quite detached from it, it’s not my problem.  We, the Jewish people have our own problems, and rising anti-Semitism is one of them.  During a recent visit to the US (West and East coasts) and the UK, I experienced no such attitudes.  But, the facts speak for themselves.

The thing I noticed most in the UK was the huge influx of immigrants.  The waiter at one restaurant was from Slovakia, the Uber driver was from Iraq.  Before the UK joined the EU this would have been very unlikely.  Now many people in the UK want to turn back the clock, and this is why they have Brexit.  Brexit is partly a nationalistic response to giving up British control to faceless foreign bureaucrats.  So in one respect the turn towards right-wing parties in some European countries doesn’t worry me so much, because as an Israeli I see it in much the same light.  Taking back their own control, very much as we Jews did when we established Israel and fought for it.  I would worry much more if these right-wing parties became stronger and followed the trend of Britain and opted out of the EU.  The break up of the EU would signal great troubles ahead for the world.

In the US, the main concern I experienced was that over the antics of the three congressional stooges, Omar, Rashid and Ocasio-Cortez.  Since they are hard-core anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian and socialist, they are pushing their agenda, and have many useful idiots who excuse them because they are women of color, so we should let them get away with outrageous statements?  It is also incredible that Bernie Sanders is a leading Democratic candidate for President, when he spouts primitive socialism (let’s give the people everything, after all they deserve it; who wouldn’t vote for that?) when he is in fact a multi-millionaire.  It’s a crazy world. 

From the heart of the sovereign Jewish State of Israel, I wish all my Jewish readers a happy healthy and peaceful Seder and Pesach,



Believe it or not!

Here are some common beliefs:

  • The moon is made of cheese – this used to be a common belief, although I doubt many people believe it nowadays
  • All Jews are rich – well I know my family wasn’t, but this belief seems to stick, it’s mainly believed by dirt poor Polish peasants and Germans
  • The earth is flat – once upon a time you would be killed for saying otherwise, now few if any people believe this, and those that do are mostly in an asylum
  • Israel is an apartheid state – this is totally untrue, but there are a lot of people who apparently believe this false leftist propaganda
  • The British can be trusted – this was once their motto, but its gone out of fashion from over-use and Brexit
  • America is a great power – at least it might be great again, but as for now it has lost a lot of its credibility
  • Islam is a peaceful religion – if that is so, why are almost all Muslim States convulsed by violence (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, etc.)
  • Israel is a fascist state – then how is it that it just had a democratic election, in which Arabs have the vote (or maybe it was all an illusion)
  • Catholic priests are celibate – if you believe this you are not listening to the media or the Pope
  • Socialism works – as in Venezuela, the Soviet Union, and in Bernie Saunders dreams and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ wishful thinking
  • The British Labour Party is anti-racist – except that it is also institutionally anti-Semitic, as its own leader Jeremy Corbyn recently admitted

There are few statements that can be genuinely believed, but one of them is don’t accept what is the “perceived wisdom” at face value.


The Games Begin

Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beitanu party, that received 5 seats in the recent elections, has agreed to join the coalition government being formed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu,  But, almost immediately afterwards he gave a press conference in which he warned Netanyahu not to change one word in the draft law for the induction of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews into the IDF, or he will resign again and cause a new election.  This is precisely what happened before, since Netanyahu put this Bill on hold because he received similar threats from the haredi political parties, Shas (now with 8) and United Torah Judaism (with 7), that totally oppose such a policy.  This led Lieberman to resign, causing the government collapse.

The final vote tally from the election commission is that Likud just nosed out Blue & White to gain 36 seats to 35, and with these other small parties, plus the Rightist Union (5) and Kulanu (4) this leaves Netanyahu clear to form a majority coalition with 65 seats in the Knesset out of 120.  But, to illustrate the split in Israeli opinion and the situation as it was before, this coalition could collapse over this one issue among others. This  represents a secular/religious split which is not unexpected in Israel.  Although ca. 70% of Israelis are not religious, nevertheless they tolerate religious influence on political matters because of the past history and because they want to live in a Jewish State.  I for one agree with Lieberman, the haredim should serve in the IDF like everyone else, because the IDF protects them too.  But, this is a divisive political issue that cannot be simply resolved .

Another divisive issue is the question of annexing the parts of the West Bank (generally Area C controlled by Israel under the Oslo Accords) where there are large Jewish settlements.  Netanyahu stated this as a campaign promise.  Even the Palestinians admit that this area is expected to be included into Israel in any negotiation.  But, given that there has not been any negotiations for years and there is not likely to be, it is about time that Israel took the necessary step to break the stalemate.  Even if Pres. Trump’s plan comes out soon and does not include Israeli sovereignty over these areas, nevertheless, this is the reality.  Israel controls these areas, they contain ca. 500,000 Jewish settlers, who are never going to be moved, and there is only a tiny minority of Arabs living in these areas, since the majority of them are in Area A that constitutes the Palestine Authority (and Gaza),

Netanyahu has shown himself to be a master of the political game, out-maneuvering the left, the center and the extreme right.  Note that three of his rivals on the right, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked who formed the New Right Party and Moshe Feiglin of Zehut (identity) all failed to enter the Knesset.  So although there has been a move in Israel from the left to the center in the opposition, the center right still controls the government.  However, the differences between the secular and religious right still remain a potential source of future schisms that Netanyahu will have to use all his political mastery to overcome.

PS. Please see the latest paintings I have added to my web-site at http://www.jackcohenart.com/Watercolor.html

Amazing Coincidences in History

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was sent by US Pres. Thomas Jefferson in 1804 to discover a route thru the newly acquired territory of the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean by land.  The expedition consisted of about 20 Americans with the female Indian guide Sacajawea.  In 1805 they were about 1,000 miles from the nearest US settlement in completely unknown territory when they were surrounded by Indians.  During negotiations, Sacajawea realized that the leader of the Shoshone Indians was in fact her brother!  It seems she was kidnapped from her home by another tribe as a child and had grown up with them.  As a result of this incredible coincidence, the Shoshones were friendly and agreed to trade horses to the expedition, which allowed them to continue their journey.  They came to the Rocky Mountains that they had no idea were there, and decided to cross them.  During the crossing they were forced to eat their horses as the only source of food.  This enabled them to accomplish their goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean, where they claimed the Oregon Territory for the US.  Imagine if the Shoshones had been hostile to them, they might never have crossed the Rockies and might not have reached the Pacific and what is now the Western US might not have become US territory.

When Sun Yat Sen returned to China in 1922 he took with him his bodyguard Morris Abraham Cohen, known as “Two-Gun” Cohen, who came from the East End of London and had been a gangster in Canada, where they had met.  Cohen, known as Mah Kun in Chinese, worked closely with Sen, including fighting with him to ensure the unification of China and gun-running arms for the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party.  Although Sen was proclaimed President of China, there were large parts of China that were not under his control, including the northern region containing Beijing.  This was controlled by a war-lord, Yuan Shikai, and Sen decided to send Two-Gun Cohen to establish contact with him under the guise of an arms salesman.  Cohen traveled to Beijing and make contact with Shikai and obtained a meeting with him.  Then he requested that they be left alone, whereupon he tried to explain his mission from Sun Yat Sen.  But, they discovered that they had no language in common, Cohen spoke some Chinese, but was not fluent in Mandarin, and Shikai spoke no English.  So Cohen thought he might speak German so he tried to speak to him in Yiddish, and the war-lord replied in perfect Yiddish.  It transpired that he had studied in Germany for some years and had lived with a Jewish family and had learnt Yiddish.  So a crucial negotiation over the future of China coincidentally took place in Yiddish.  Shikai accepted Sen’s terms to appoint him interim President and China was united.

Glimpses of the Future

I sometimes watch a program on the educational network called “Mega-structures,” which generally shows how large structures are built.  Two recent programs dealt with potential future mega-structures that will likely have a large impact on our world.

The first is the idea that the motor car will become obsolete and will be replaced by pods.  In cities these pods will be connected to a system of overhead rails that will transport people to where they want to go.  When you get in you give the destination and the pod will take you there, using GPS and its in-built knowledge of the network.  The whole system will be like the pods that pick up and deliver goods in a huge warehouse, as in such companies as Amazon.  The pods are controlled by a computer system that tells the pod what to do, but each pod has sufficient autonomy that it can find the best way to its destination.  If there is an obstacle in its way, like a fallen package, it detects it and goes around it and also tells the central system that it is there so that it ensures other pods know about it.  There are thousands of such systems working successfully in the USA, but most of them have hundreds of pods, even thousands, but not more.  In order to run a huge system like a city-wide transportation system with perhaps hundreds of thousands of pods will require a significant upgrade of the control system.  But, in effect, it is just an expansion of a working system, the basis is already there.

The other idea is that there will be a tunnel between Siberia and Alaska that will mostly transport freight from China and Russia to North America.  The distance is ca. 62 miles, and this would be the longest tunnel in the world.  Much of the tunnel will be made of pre-fabricated steel sections that will be assembled on the ice during the winter and when the ice melts the sections will be sunk to the bottom, and there connected together and then covered over with earth/sand.  This is called a submersible tunnel and is much cheaper to make than drilling, especially thru rock.  Such a tunnel would reduce energy use significantly since it will replace the need to use ships and planes to transport most goods from China and Russia to the whole of the Americas.  There are many other places in the world where submersible tunnels could greatly reduce the time and cost of transporting goods around the world.

Unrest in the Arab World

Several large countries that consider themselves “Arab”, although ethnically they are not, are currently in various stages of political unrest.  This includes Algeria, a country of 41 million people (that is mainly Berber not Arab), Sudan, also 41 million (that calls itself Arab, but is in fact African), and Libya (7 million), that is in the violent final stages of chaos since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. 

In Algeria, the political turmoil is over the former President Bouteflika deciding to remain President for a fifth term.  The outpouring of millions of people forced the military to replace Bouteflika, but his replacement Bensalah is of course a former member of the regime.  So the demonstrations are continuing in order to try to force the Army to accept a civilian government.  These demonstrations are exactly parallel to those that took place in Egypt and lead tot he overthrow of Pres. Mubarak in the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011.

At the same time, and certainly not by coincidence, the same scenario is playing itself out in Sudan .  The President Omar al Bashir, who has imposed a strict religious Sunni regime on Sudan and has exercised autocratic rule for 30 years, has finally been deposed by massive demonstrations of “people power.”  The Army have taken over and arrested Bashir (who himself was a general when he seized power in 1989), and has declared a two-year military rule.  Here also the demonstrations are continuing to prevent a mere continuation of the regime and the people demand a return to civilian rule.

I remember having a Sudanese friend in Cambridge when I was a graduate student.  He told me that  Israel could not last because it is an artificial state.  Now Israel has had another of many successive elections and is not only peaceful, but stable and affluent. By contrast, Sudan is in a terrible state, currently in chaos, the Christian/Pagan South has defected and formed its own State, South Sudan, because of the Islamic policies of Pres. Bashir, and the western region of Darfur has been embroiled in a war for many years, for which Bashir is wanted by the UN as a war criminal. Who was right?   

The demonstrations in Algeria and Sudan have so far been peaceful.  In Libya the situation is different because there are in fact two centers of power, Tripoli, the capital in the west, that contains the recognized civilian government, and Benghazi in the east. where the Libyan National Army under military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar is based.  Currently this army is attacking Tripoli, but has been held up by fierce resistance with the assistance of the army of the city of Misrata, that is near Tripoli and which played a key role in the overthrow of Qaddafi.  Haftar is attempting to reinstall military control in Libya, and the civilian government with international support is resisting.  It appears that Haftar may be getting military support from Russia.  Libya is of course very rich in oil.

These manifestations of political unrest, military control and resort to violence are symptomatic of so-called Arab States.  What a pity they cannot get their act together and have civilian governments and civilized societies.

Ironies of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism

There are certain ironies in the current situation.  Anti-Islamic feeling, known as Islamophobia, is increasing throughout Europe, where there are now ca. 15 million Muslims.  But, at the same time anti-Semitism is increasing in parallel, when there are only ca. 1 million Jews throughout the whole of Europe.  Why? Because the Europeans very effectively ethnically-cleansed Europe of Jews the last time around.  The anti-Semitism this time is blamed on Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, who are Muslims.  So at the same time the Europeans hate Muslims, but love Palestinians (?)

Then more and more States, including European countries, are making good ties and relations with the State of Israel, while at the same time their populace is becoming more anti-Semitic.  In this case they distinguish between Jews, who they tend to hate, and Israelis who they admire because they fight the Muslims, who they hate.  Americans and Europeans (especially Christians) tend to see Israel as a bulwark against Islamic expansionism, while at the same time disliking Jews (or hating them) because its traditional. 

Note that part of the reason for Islamophobia is because among Muslims there is a tendency to want to “take over” to make wherever they live into an Islamic State, and indeed every Muslim is supposed to do this.  This results in Muslim hatred of non-believers, infidels, and their ways.  It also results in Muslims wanting to install Sharia Law in place of whatever law is practiced in the West and elsewhere.  These views lead to Muslim terrorism against the West (and Israel).  But, the Jews, when they did live in Europe in significant numbers, never wanted to “take over,” this was a myth of anti-Semitism.  The thought among Jews that they should replace the laws of the countries they lived in with their own practices was non-existent. Certainly Jews had their own ways that were foreign to the Europeans, but they never tried to superimpose them on the surrounding population as the Muslims indeed try to do. So to hate Jews just because you hate Muslims is irrational, but then again all such views are irrational.

The irony is that while liberal-minded Jews in the Diaspora, in America and Europe, are drifting away from support of Israel, non-Jewish liberals blame all Jews because they obviously support Israel.  So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Remember Hitler never asked Jews what they believed, he had them killed because it was a racial thing.  That is anti-Semitism!   Anyway I’m confused, I wish they’d make up their minds, who do they really hate?