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,

 

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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?  

Resurgent Anti-Semitism

It cannot be coincidence that anti-Semitism is a serious issue on both sides of the Atlantic at this time.  In the US, the Democratic Party is on the defensive about the stands taken by its two Muslim Congresswomen Ilhan Omar ( D-Minn) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich).  The former is a Somali refugee and the latter is of Palestinian origin.  Omar has made overtly anti-Semitic statements, accusing Jewish members of Congress of having dual loyalty and saying that she refuses to take an oath of allegiance to Israel, like her colleagues.  As a result of many complaints, including by Jewish Democrats, Nancy Pelosi was preparing a resolution refuting her anti-Semitic statements.  But, an internal fight ensued in which the Congressional Black Caucus supported Omar, and so the resolution was watered down to be against all racism, including anti-Black, Islamophobia as well as anti-Semitism.

But, we should acknowledge that Omar cannot help herself, all Muslims are brought up to be anti-Jewish, as Christians once were.  And now this form of virulent anti-Israelism has infected their culture.   What is perhaps worse is that the Black members of Congress support her, as do her leftist colleagues, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Saunders, who is incredibly running for President again.  So anti-Semitism is now a major issue in the US and has infected the major Democratic party thru the infiltration of Muslims and hard leftists.

In the UK the situation is similar, but in a way worse, because the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has shown himself to be a committed anti-Israel activist, sympathizer with the extreme wings of Palestinian terrorism, as well as being openly anti-Semitic.  And this has resulted in a strong anti-Semitic wave in the Party, resulting in intimidation of those who oppose this wave, and as a result 10 members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (MPs), some of them Jewish, have left the Party.  Once again anti-Semitism is a major live issue in British politics, also at a time of political upheaval due to the Brexit situation.

Historically, whenever there has been a time of political upheaval and uncertainty, as found in both the UK and Britain now, there is an upsurge of anti-Semitism.  Popular movements in times of stress look for scapegoats and the Jews are the favorite ones.  Add to this the extreme anti-Jewish and anti-Israel views of the Muslims now infiltrating Western politics and left-wing parties and you have a cause for deep concern

Vikings

I have been binge watching the Netflix series called “Vikings.”  I had decided not to watch it, since many years ago I saw a movie with the same title made in Hollywood with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, which was terrible.  But, someone recommended the series to me, so I started watching and got hooked.  Now I am up-to-date, watching the 5th series.

I would not recommend it to anyone who is queasy about violence and bloodshed, and graphic sex.  The battle scenes are gory and leave nothing to the imagination.  Also, it is not exactly historically accurate, but it tells a truly interesting story based on the Norse Saga about the famous Viking hero Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons.

Some of the events are historically accurate, for example the first recorded Viking raid on England took place in 793 ce at the famous Monastery of Lindisfarne on the northern coast of Northumbria in England.   Most of the monks were killed and all the precious materials were looted.  This raid was supposed to have been lead by Ragnar Lothbrok, who was the first raider to go West from Norway and cross the North Sea.  Subsequently many such raids took place.  Much of what is portrayed in the “Vikings” series is accurate, for example the Viking sieges of Paris occurred in 845 ce and 885 ce and were led by Lothbrok and they yielded a great deal of treasure.

At that time England was divided into four Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex and a small Kingdom of East Anglia. The name England derives from Anglia after the German tribe called Angles.  Most of the people spoke a dialect of West German, but it was also mixed with Celtic from the original Celtic inhabitants (who were mostly driven into the periphery of Wales and Scotland) and Latin from the previous Roman conquerors (from 55 bce-410 ce).

The Vikings became embroiled in the internal struggles between the Saxon kingdoms and eventually Ragnar Lothbrok was murdered there.  It is true that in 865 ce his sons returned with a large army known as the Great Pagan Army, to wreak revenge and in the process killed King Ayeala of Northumbria and Ecbert of Wessex-Mercia and occupied the town of York, which became their capital and which they called Yorick.  I have visited the underground remains of the Danish town there.

The leader of the Vikings at this point was the son of Ragnar known as Ivar The Boneless, because he was crippled, and who was known to be vicious.  Later most of Eastern England fell under their control and was known as the Danelaw or Danegeld and was a part of a Norse Kingdom that included Norway and Denmark, first under King Canute (or Knut).  But, King Alfred the Great (849-899 ce) pacified the Danish area and later incorporated it into a united England.

This all happened just prior to the invasion of the Norman French, lead by William the Conqueror in 1066 ce, who quickly conquered all of England.  The Normans were actually Northmen or Vikings who had conquered parts of France and who spoke French.  Thus the language of Britain became a mixture of Romano-Celtic-Anglo-Saxon-Danish-Norman-French, that over 1,000 years evolved into the English language.

The depiction of Viking life and religion seems accurate and the acting is excellent, particularly that of Ragner Lothbrok, who plays not a super-hero but rather a man with ambitions who has Kingship thrust upon him.  I also liked the portrayal of his first wife Lagertha by a beautiful actress who was an early feminist and of Flocki the boat builder, who supposedly discovered the uninhabited island now knows as Iceland.  I highly recommend this series for those who are adventurous and not squeamish.

UK Political Upheaval

An extraordinary political upheaval is taking place in the UK and no-one can tell where it will lead.  The two major Parties, Labour and Conservative, that have controlled the destiny of Britain for 100 years, are both in the process of splitting. It may be that the reasons for each party to split seem quite different, or it may be that the current system has run its course and a new paradigm will eventuate.

The Labour Party started to split first, over the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who has made no secret of his disdain for Israel  and for Jews.  Under his leadership the Labour Party has turned sharply left and anti-Semitism has become institutionalized within the Party.  Those who have complained and opposed this have been subjected to political suppression and personal harassment.  As a result first seven and then another member of the Parliamentary Labour Party, i.e. Labour MPs, have resigned from the Party and have moved into a section of the House of Commons for “independent MPs.”  Some of them are Jewish, but certainly not all of them.

Today three Conservative MPs announced they are leaving the Conservative Party.  Their resignation is due to the way PM Theresa May has handled Brexit, but more than that they see that after her approach was rejected by the House, she has tried to appease her most vociferous opponents rather than  try to work with the main-stream.  It has now become apparent that the Conservative Party at its grassroots has been infiltrated and in some cases taken over by Brexit extremists, including members of the former UK Independence Party (UKIP), and that some Conservative MPs are being forced to vote for a no-agreement Brexit, that could be economically disastrous for the country.

These three former Conservatives have now joined the eight former Labour MPs as an independent group in the Commons.  So far they are far from a political party.  They have no declared common aims or policies and might never be able to agree.  But, they are expecting more MPs to join them and this will be a repudiation of the two-Party system that has controlled British politics since the beginning of the Parliamentary system.   The reforming spirits of both PMs Blair on the left and Cameron on the right have long since departed the scene.  This seems to be only the beginning of a political revolution in the UK.

Brexit or the Wall

I do not know what is a worse mess, the UK’s future tied up in Brexit, or the US Govt. brought to a stand-still by the budget dispute over The Wall!  I have a modest proposal. To let cool heads prevail in both cases, let the Governments switch, just for the solution to these two seemingly insoluble problems.  Let Pres. Trump and the US Govt. take over the Brexit negotiations, and let PM May and her Govt. take over the negotiations for the Wall.

While the Brexit negotiations primarily concern the UK Govt. and the EU, this is far from being the main problem.  The main problem is convincing the House of Commons (HC) to accept May’s Plan to resolve the problem and to satisfy the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland that their border will be a “soft” border, according to the so-called “back-stop” agreement.

With the US border with Mexico, the problem is not Mexico, the problem is getting the Democrats to agree to compromise with Trump and pay towards the Wall (or fence) in order to allow the US Govt. to avoid another shut-down.  Maybe with fresh eyes, people on both sides could see a better way ahead.  Perhaps the Democrats would find it easier to compromise with May than with Trump, and perhaps the MP’s would find it easier to compromise with Trump rather than with May.

What would happen if this idea was instituted, it could be a model for future intractable problems, let another Government and system come in and resolve the problem their way.  But, actually I don’t see it happening, it’s like when couples throw their keys into a bowl, but they always take out their own keys.  The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.  So let Trump not worry about taking a hammering in the Commons, and let May not worry about begging Pelosi to give her a few dollars.  They have big enough problems of their own. Still it would be a nice experiment.

Plan B = Plan A

The twisting complex plot of Brexit gets ever more confusing.  You may remember that  last week PM Theresa May presented her Plan for Brexit, the British exit from the EU.  At that time she basically stated that this was the only possible Plan, negotiated over the past few years in detail with the EU.  But, the House of Commons (HC) didn’t like her “take-it-or-leave it” approach, so they voted it down by a huge margin.  There were a variety of opponents, including those against Brexit, those in favor of a “hard” Brexit with no further connections with the EU, and even those who want a “no-deal” Brexit with no deal with the EU, those who want to extend the period of negotiations, those who want a second referendum, etc.

Given this rare defeat for the Government, the leader of the Labour opposition Jeremy Corbyn introduced a vote of non-confidence in the Govt.  But, this failed because the majority of MP’s didn’t want to change horses in mid-stream.  They want May to continue the process, but with their input (or control).  As such they mandated that May return in 3 days (!) with a Plan B, showing her flexibility and responsiveness to their (often contradictory) concerns.

Not surprisingly when May returned 3 days later and presented her Plan B, it was very much like Plan A (how could it not be).  She changed two things, she dumped the plan to charge EU citizens living in the UK a fee for applying for residence, and she said she would modify the so-called “back-stop” agreement between the UK, that includes Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the EU (of which Ireland is a member).  This agreement is necessary so that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland does not become a “hard” border again.  Precisely how this back-stop agreement will be changed is unclear, but depends on re-negotiation with the EU.

Since the PM put her Plan B up for discussion, this allowed MP’s to add amendments, and here the opponents crawled out of the woodwork.  The Speaker of the House used his authority to dismiss most the more outlandish amendments, however, about 8 were allowed.  Only one of them that was passed has significance.  Although it is not binding on the PM, it requires that there be NO “non-deal” Brexit.  In other words, the UK must sign an exit agreement with the EU.  Finally, after all the amendments, the Plan B was voted on and it passed by a resounding acclaim.

So largely the difference between Plan A and Plan B was that Theresa May took a much softer approach to the opinions being expressed by the MP’s.  She listened to them, she agreed to continue to consult with them, she appeared more flexible and less dogmatic, and this worked.  But, word from out of Brussels was that the EU is not interested.  Their attitude, as was May’s Plan A, is that the long negotiations have concluded, that an agreement has been arrived at (650 pages) and that there is no turning back and no renegotiation possible, and that the back-stop agreement on the Irish border is part of that agreement, period.  Now May faces the unenviable task of returning to Brussels to plead with them to agree to re-open these issues when as far as they are concerned, all negotiations are over.  Can she persuade them to at least show the appearance of flexibility, as she did so expertly in the HC