Sunday, October 16, 2011

Getting Gilad Home...painful and neccessary

I feel compelled to write this. In another two or three days, a five-year saga will come to an end. Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli soldier abducted during his national service, will come home to his family and a joyful nation, after five years in captivity by Hamas.
But not everyone in the nation of Israel is joyful about the deal that was forged to secure his release. The deal calls for the pardon and release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners - many of them with blood on their hands - enough blood that would "...the multitudinous seas incarnadine" (to invoke the Bard). 
Those against the deal feel that the price is too high; that releasing so many terrorist prisoners will just set the stage for the next round of terror attacks, abductions, murders and general mayhem. This is a compelling argument. As I write, there is a petition to Israel's Supreme Court to halt the deal because it is basically illegal in Israeli law.
The petitioners are families of terror victims, families whose loved ones have died at the hands of many of these soon-to be-released prisoners.
One additional petition is particularly heart-rending: it is filed by Arnold and Frimet Roth of Jerusalem against one prisoner only: the women who drove the suicide bomber to the Sbarro Pizza parlor in King George Street, Jerusalem, in 2001, where their daughter Malki was killed with 14 others - eight of them is difficult not to sign and support this petition: but regretfully, Arnold and Frimet,  I'm not going to. And this is despite the fact that my wife lost her mother and sister in the Purim suicide bombing at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center in March of 1996 together with 11 other victims, five of them children under 16. Now let me explain why.
It's not because I have any love for the prisoners; the woman prisoner against whom the Roth's are petitioning is a particularly loathsome individual. She spews hatred and venom and is the more dangerous because of her undoubted charisma and eloquence. It's certainly not because I'm a raving leftist loony who believes that all the world's problems can be solved by "love, love, love..." and it's not because I blindly support the current government in all its decisions...I don't.
It's quite simply because we, as a family, believe that it's time for Israel to be able to celebrate something worthwhile for a change. It's time for this son to be restored to his family and his nation. It's time for us to show the world that one Israeli soldier - one Jewish life - is worth multitudes of our enemies; it's time to show the world that we value life over death. And I for one do not believe that keeping any prisoners in our jails will halt the next bomber or murderer if they really set their minds to it. 
Count the incidents and deaths we have experienced over the past five years - when there was no deal. Look at the incitement and the rocket attacks and the anti-Israel propaganda. I don't believe that this deal - or no deal - will change that one tiny iota. In any case, the terms of the deal are somewhat more favorable towards Israel: the security agreements (yes, I know, agreements with Hamas are not worth the paper they are written on...) are stringent. Each one of the released prisoners may as well have a target strapped to his or her back - one step out of line and another one bites the dust.
But too much time and too many proposals have been tabled to go backwards now. Too much effort has been invested by "honest brokers" - Germany and Egypt - for us to give in to the albeit justified feelings of many victim's families - and my G-d it's difficult to say that. It's easy to say that we must just trust the powers-that-be, the security forces and prison service personnel who had to vet the names - but in this case, we have little choice.
Above all, I put myself in the Shalit family's shoes and say, "What if - God forbid - it was my son?" I would give anything in the world - and expect my country to give anything in the world - to get him back safe and sound. No matter if those that planed the Dizengoff bombing were among the released - good riddance to them. Let them go and rot in Gaza or in some foreign country. I no longer want my tax shekels to be spent on keeping them safe and warm in one of our prisons from where they can plot anything they wish anyway.
Let Gilad come home: let his family rejoice and let Israel rejoice. Yes, the price is high. But let us show the world the value we place on one Israel soldier, as a cartoon in the weekend edition of the International Herald Tribune, showing two prisoners leaving an Israel jail, so succinctly observed: One says to the other "I just did the math - I'm worth 70 grams of an Israeli soldier:" Yes indeed.. .even that's much more than any of them are really worth. Think about it. Let the world remember it. We value life above all else. Bring Gilad home. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let's Stop Apologizing for our Existence:

I find that our in our constant efforts and eagerness to be loved by the rest of the world, we fall into a huge trap: we are constantly apologizing for our existence:

“Look at how good we are, look at how nice we are, see how clever we are, look how cute we are, see how good looking our young men and women are, we don’t really go out of our way to hurt other people, we’re sorry, look at how we've suffered, we apologize for making you feel bad, we’re sorry you don’t want us here, we’re unhappy that you’re unhappy, we feel bad about that...”


It’s time to grow up: we don’t need to apologize for anything we’ve done right...we just need to state it, clear and bold and confidently.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t shout about our successes, or tell the world how bloody marvelous we are – because we ARE – but we need a complete change of mind-set. What am I talking about? Here’s the thing: we do all of the above in a very reactive way. Something goes wrong – and many things DO go wrong – and we react: “Ah yes, but look at how wonderful we really are...doesn’t that negate the one bad thing that happened? We’re sorry...we’re really nice guys once you get to know us...”

Instead, and here I’m quoting from PR 101: Get PROACTIVE. Tell people about yourself, before they start asking...tell the world about your successes and your plans, and your motivations and your good and great points, BEFORE there are problems to have to counteract.

A recent example: We knew that Judge Goldstone was heading a commission which we strongly and correctly suspected would be terribly biased against Israel. We knew this months before the commission published its findings. But what did we do about it? Nothing! Nothing until the report was published and we came under massive PR fire once again...

Sure, there are those who will claim that we constantly put out information about the attacks from Hamas over the years, about rocket fire against our population, and scores of other incidents and threats. That may be so. But did we address the core issue: that there was a suspect commission at work whose members were already prejudiced against Israel, whose findings were likely to suck credibility and which would cause us great harm in the court of public opinion? I don’t believe we did. Instead we had the three main branches of government which were directly affected by the report: The Prime Minster’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry (and the IDF) working on their own agendas, with little or no coordination, no central message, no direct thematic approach; spokesmen with poor command of English, fumbling over their words, making statements which had us totally on the defensive. And so we came out, in the PR battle once again, looking like rank amateurs and earning the condemnation of the world.

In the way that Israel’s PR is handled, I can’t help but be reminded of the attitudes I encountered in my community in South Africa. Although I was much younger, I had already imbibed the essence of good PR from some of the masters of the game, from my copious reading on the subject and from my years of experience as a Sunday newspaper journalist. My ethos was: “Go get ‘em...make your statement first – grab the headline...because anything that follows is relegated to page two, and any apology for inaccuracy – and there will likely always be an apology – is consigned to page 24 at the bottom of the ninth column...” "

The community was reluctant to go proactive on most things. When it did, it was with trepidation. And I'm not just talking about political issues...many of the wonderfully good and interesting things the community did went unheralded and unnoticed because of two attitudes held by our communal elders, with all respect to them:

1. "Keep our head down" and
2. "Who cares what the Goyim think anyway?"

When I was an even younger journalist working on a Sunday newspaper, I wrote an article entitled “Don’t Rock the Boat” urging the South African Jewish community to set aside its complacency and come out strongly and publicly against the evils of apartheid. I urged them to condemn, as a community, what was being done in our then beloved country.

This was in the 1970’s and true, there were Jews very much in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement; prominent Jews, but they spoke as individuals motivated by their individual consciences. I wanted to see the Jewish community, speaking for all Jews and Jewish ethics and tradition and belief, condemning the evil regime. I got condemnation all right, but it was personal and directed at me for daring to raise this issue at all.

There were some things I wrote, that with the immense value of hindsight and understanding my naivety at the time, could have been phrased more tactfully. There were some things I wrote which were probably unfair to the community as a whole. But I make no apology for the sentiment of that article. I was saying: “Stop being complacent, stop turning a blind eye, stand up for your faith, your tradition, your beliefs and in recognition of the persecution of our people for two thousand years, tell the world that AS JEWS, that we condemn these vile policies...”

Sadly, there was no national consensus of how Jews as a community should behave under apartheid. And I believe that to a certain degree – and I know I am walking a tightrope here – that has enabled some enmity towards South African Jews to creep into the rank-and-file attitudes in the new South Africa. While, in their defense, they can laud the examples of prominent South African Jews who were in the forefront of the struggle – Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo, Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe among many others – they cannot say: “We as a COMMUNITY condemned apartheid.”

Would it have been different if the community had come out en mass condemning apartheid at that time? I can’t say for sure. Is the situation of South African Jews today that bad anyway? I really cannot answer with any degree of certainty because I no longer live there. But I DO know for sure that there is a major anti-Israel body of opinion, which inevitably rebounds on the community. Had things been different, hey might well have been able to state with certainty that on such and such a date the community spoke with one voice saying: "We Condemn Apartheid."

So now I am saying, loudly and clearly, it’s time for us in Israel to stop being complacent and letting world opinion determine how we respond to things. Stop allowing world opinion to drive the agenda. Let us not leave the task to the hundreds of individuals in Israel who tirelessly write opinion pieces, who with dedication and passion, write blogs and newsletters and send out information stating Israel’s case. Let’s recruit these people into a national task force; use their talents and their energy and passion, and coordinate this effort under one umbrella so that our messages are consistent, coordinated, sustained and heard. What should that main message be IMHO?

"We don't apologize for our existence. We are strong, we are moral, we are entitled to our place in the sun like any other nation, but most of all, we’re HERE. Get used to it."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A New Israel – A Manifesto

I see the tent protests spreading across this country, from Rothschild Boulevard to Jerusalem, from Haifa to Kfar Saba, and all towns and cities in between. I see young people and older people moving into these tents in protest; I see a movement of discontent being made tangible and I realize that it is about more, so much more, than just housing and rent levels.

It is about a New Israel. It is about young people raising their voices as never before, about the difficulty of living in this country where prices of nearly everything – with few exceptions – are way beyond those of other countries in Europe or the US – and where wages and salaries are far below those of most other Western countries.

It is about young people demanding the right to make a decent living, and not having to live on overdraft; it is about young people saying “...we’ve had enough!” and it is about young people saying “...let’s change this, NOW!”

I see a new Israel emerging from the tent cities. I see a thousand tents along Rothschild Boulevard – and hardly a scrap of paper on the ground. I see people debating and discussing issues and hardly a voice raised in anger. I see spirited protest, but no violence. I see hope and the future being born before our eyes – and I hope we all realize it and grasp it and nurture it, because it is precious...and ephemeral.

I see a New Israel: an Israel which embodies the heritage of our founding fathers; the pioneering spirit which drove us to convert mosquito-infested swamps and arid wasteland into a garden of delight. I see the commitment and the love of this country manifesting itself in the raw fear of the failure of our enterprise and a determination not to let that happen. To recognize when things are wrong and stand up and say “NO!”

I see a New Israel; an Israel in which people of all shades of opinion are able to state their views without being shouted down. An Israel in which gays and straights, knitted kippot, ultra-religious and ultra secular are able to freely discuss and practice what they truly believe.

I see the birth of a New Israel where the rhetoric and manipulation of cynical and corrupt politicians is greeted with condemnation and not apathy; a new Israel in which respect for other points of view, right, left and center is paramount. I see an Israel which is vibrant with creativity, where music and dance, art and literature are nurtured even more than they are today; with well-provisioned museums and libraries, courses and workshops alive and well in every city, town and village.

I see an Israel where its citizens are still safe to walk its streets and country paths at all times of the day and night – this unique benefit of Israeli life which very few other countries enjoy – but which is being slowly eroded as crime and deprivation creep into the back alleys threatening to destroy this aspect of our lives.

I see an Israel with an efficient, professional, well-paid police force which considers the welfare of citizens its number one priority and one which citizens respect because it has earned that respect by rooting out corruption and serving the people; and a criminal justice system where wrongdoers are brought swiftly and fairly to justice, where the rule of law is supreme.

I see Israeli children excelling at their studies, with enlightened educational policies which challenge and reward excellence; I see this happening in well-funded schools, with small classes and dedicated, professional teachers and with every possible technological and cultural facility available.

I see the result of this being a continual surge of the entrepreneurial spirit...bursting with the energy of innovation and creative thought, developing products and systems which will maintain this country’s position at the forefront of technology and medical science. And I see this being achieved through meaningful tax breaks and incentives for entrepreneurs and enterprises, which will attract foreign investment and enable companies to pay their hard-working, dedicated and talented people salaries which don’t disappear by the fifth of the month into exorbitantly priced goods and services, taxes and overdrafts.

My vision includes those who should be the biggest earners in our society – teachers, police and doctors: those people who have chosen difficult professions which have a deep and lasting impact on our daily lives and well-being.

I see an Israel extending the hand of peace, tolerance, understanding and cooperation to our Palestinian neighbors...and seeing our Palestinian neighbors reciprocating by extending the hand of peace, tolerance, understanding and cooperation to their Jewish neighbors...with this spirit eventually spreading throughout our region.

Our armed forces will remain vigilant, strong, moral and technologically advanced, with the concept of “purity of arms” being paramount; where restraint and professionalism rule, where serving in the armed forces is considered a privilege and not a hardship to be avoided.

I see an Israel where drivers respect each other and each other’s property – their vehicles, cars, motorcycles and bicycles – and where our streets and highways enable the swift and safe movement of people and goods to their destinations; and cease being highways of death.

I see Israel as a model of sustainability – with clean skies, rivers, beaches and forests. Where used goods are recycled instead of becoming pollutants...where health, welfare and longevity are the norm.

I see an Israel leading the world with a high quality of government, with spirited debate and creative, enlightened policies. I see an end to coercion, religious or political, and end to corruption, and an end to the wheeling and dealing of coalition politics.

I see an Israel with tourists thronging to its shores – not in the sparse millions we grab at like crumbs each year, but in the tens of millions. I see immigrants from the West clamoring to set up home here because of the opportunities and the high quality of life. And I see refugees being treated with respect and empathy, and given shelter and the dignity they deserve, because we were refugees once.

Above all, I see clarity of thought and a generosity of spirit, more caring, less public animosity, less demands of self-entitlement – our boorish “m’giah li – I deserve it!” attitude. I see this all arising from the spark of the tent city protests, with the promise of a very bright future for my grandchildren being born.

This is one of my visions of the New Israel. The other is too horrible to contemplate...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Next PR Train Smash Waiting to Happen-MV Rachel Corrie on the Way

Understand me clearly: I  am not advocating that we allow anybody to break the blockade, but I AM advising that we handle the next episode in this drama with a lot more care and intelligence (intellectual and military). The MV Rachel Corrie has sailed for Gaza - PLEASE, our exalted leaders, PLEASE understand that the very name of this ship is laden with emotion - please (!) do not allow a second debacle to take place. I am not a military tactician, so I cannot advise on how to handle this from an operational point of view. I am just cautioning the powers-that-be to be aware of what is going on here - high voltage emotional overtones riding the wave (literally) of a huge PR success and just waiting for us to step in our own doo-doo once again.

Israel's PR Debacle - and What to do About It

Here are my initial reactions to the debacle at sea yesterday  - and yes, it WAS a debacle: I'm not talking right or wrong here, I'm talking from a straightforward, professional PR standpoint  it was more than a debacle, it was a train smash waiting to happen, and we didn't see the loco bearing down on us.

People will say - just look at the footage we have. Yeah, great - but unfortunately our stuff was released far too late – after the world had already heard the hysterical screams and indignation from somewhat untrustworthy sources: but who cares about veracity these days – the bigger the noise, the bigger the headline and the more you will be believed. This material should have been out in cyberspace almost in real time...

But there is a much bigger and more fundamental issue at stake, and that is the fact (like it or not) that Israel now faces a massive uphill PR battle.

To address this, we need to go back to the original decisions made by the cabinet that insisted that the ships be stopped from entering Gaza. Now, I’m not saying that they should have been allowed; in fact I’m not looking at this from an operational or political point of view at all – I reiterate, strictly from PR viewpoint.

PR-wise, perhaps the smartest thing to do would have been to allow the ships in; let Hamas have its jollies for a day and that would have been that....or so some people would think. However, that beggars the question – what about the next flotilla, and the next and the next???? This could have led to a de facto breaking of the embargo, and that, from Israeli’s political standpoint, would be unacceptable. So what was Israel supposed to do?  Let it happen and deal with the next flotilla when it comes around? Hardly a sound solution.

But to block the flotilla with force was clearly not an option – BTW I’m pretty sure the US Coast Guard (and the Royal Navy for that matter) would have fired one warning shot across the bows and emptied the rest of its ordinance directly below the waterline. Other methods should have been considered: fouling the propeller for example; tear gas, water cannon...these all sound pretty glib and simple and I’m sure they are not: but here’s the rub:

Israel was totally unprepared both for the attack on its marines, and for the media bombshell that was just waiting to happen. The Israel Foreign Ministry and those in the cabinet, just do not understand (or so it seems) the thinking behind the flotilla right from the start. Only a twisted PR mind like mine could have seen right through the ploy from Day 1: the use of emotional trigger key words  - “humanitarian”, “peace-loving”, “starving people of Gaza”, “aid”, “Nobel Laureates and peace lovers...”, “international aid workers”  – c’mon; these are all “heartstring tuggers” and before they even sailed, anybody, anywhere with an ounce of compassion was already supporting the flotilla. We were being set up from the start.

Israel knew from early on who were the real organizers behind the flotilla : IHH – and we should have come out strongly, there and then and condemned Turkey for allowing them to be involved; for Turkey allowing itself to be manipulated by them, and for allowing its ports to be used. Israel should have fired the first PR shot – “We call on the Government of Turkey to dissociate itself from this farce immediately, otherwise we will be forced to withdraw our diplomats from your country.” Israel should then have advised Turkey that continuation of their support for this flotilla would constitute an act of aggression and that it would be issuing a travel advisory to the hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists planning their forthcoming summer holidays, NOT to go to Turkey. THAT would cause huge damage to their economy and create its own dynamic. Too simple? I think not - Turkey is only just beginning to recover from the Israeli boycott of its holiday destinations brought about by Erdogan's treatment and snub of President Peres after Operation Cast Lead...

Thereafter, Israel should have widely publicized the nature of IHH, called on people who had joined the flotilla to examine for themselves the provenance of this group and even called in help of the US (and others) to prevent the flotilla from leaving Turkey. Incidentally, when it tried to dock to Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot authorities were none too keen to grant it entry...

And here’s the biggest problem of all: all of the above may or may not have worked by disseminating the information through the world media. But Israel’s own PR apparatus is appalling. There is very little international media presence and almost no channel through which to broadcast our message. There is a very weak (and frankly quite amateurish) IBA English TV News Service, which broadcasts once a day on a local channel. It is actually an embarrassment to watch...

What Israel needs to do – and to hell with the cost – is to establish a highly professional, dynamic and aggressive 24-hour-a-day satellite TV channel; staffed by some of the best reporters recruited from around the world and this channel should be available first in English and then French, German and Russian and most of all, Arabic. Israel's version of Al Jazeera's English service if you like.

Israel needs a highly photogenic, tele-genic media star to be its spokesman/woman (and I think here a woman would be the smart choice) to appear in interviews and to carry Israel’s message. There are a whole host of criteria this person would have to fill, and it won't be an easy job: but I believe she is out there somewhere, and she should be paid a fortune.
The Treasury would have to vote a huge budget to this program but it should be seen as being as important as military weaponry – in fact it IS a weapon: perhaps one of the most powerful we can arm ourselves with right now. ...and this needs to be tackled immediately.

Those are my thoughts at this point: the ideas may or may not solve all the problems, but they go a helluva long way towards that goal...certainly further than anybody in Government is thinking at this point.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Doing my Bit for Medical Science

I decided that in the interests of advancing medical science, ensuring that Israel remains at the forefront of medical research, and to slightly increase my bank balance, I would sell my body for medical experiments. Not when I'm dead - I'm interested in my bank balance now, not in the afterlife. So, recalling the oft-voiced threat to our children to sell them for medical experiments to try to maintain our fiscal integrity, I am setting the example.

About a month ago, I saw a posting on an email list calling for volunteers to participate in a trial of a new Anti-Flu Vaccine. Altruism to the fore, in went my application: back bounced a questionnaire, forehand return of the duly- (and truthfully) filled-in questionnaire; backhand cross-court return- "You're allergic to cats!" Yes, I volleyed, but I live with four of them and I only start sneezing if the big on sits on my face for more than 20 minutes. "Then come for tests," they snickered, thinking they had won the set...

I went for tests. Blood tests - "hold your arm still please, this won't hurt..." as they filled six vials of my life blood; urine sample: "...mid-flow please"- don't even BEGIN to imagine that; Eh-Keh-Geh (ECG), blood pressure, interviews: "Tyell me pelyese..."(Russian doctor): "Chwen you had adenoid and tonsil out chwen you arrr 5, chwat did you feeyel after...?" That done with, a few days later, I received a formal, gilt-edged approval to participate in the trial....the first day staring at 7:00 am, at the research labs in the center of Tel Aviv.

Nothing daunted, I was up before the sparrows passed gas, fed the cats early (they loved that) swigged my only allowable cup of extra strong "machinetta" brewed Costa Rica (no coffee for the rest of the day) and off I jogged to catch the train which would deliver me within walking distance of the labs.

The world looks very different from an early morning train, as it glides through the darkness, toward the pink glow on the horizon evidence that another day was indeed dawning; most of the apartment blocks still in darkness, a few cars on the city's as yet unclogged vehicular arteries.

Arriving on time at the Medical Research Center, truth-to-tell, a little trepidatious of what was to come, I found myself in the company of 10 men and an equal number of women - all apparently sane, consenting adults who had agreed to lend their bodies, their most precious possessions, to the cause of medical advancement.

This vaccine is supposed to defend the frail human organism from all types of 'flu, from Spanish to Swine, from Bird to Cat, Dog and Mouse - if there are such things, and I'm pretty sure that one day somebody will find a mouse that sneezed and declare that they have discovered Mouse 'Flu...

Should we pull through the two-month trial, we will have played our role in making the world safe for humankind once again...yay for us!

"Men this way, please, women in there" - directed Big Nurse..."find a bed, get comfortable, wait!"

Ten men, all "seniors" i.e. well above 35 (!) - Seven Russians, one Israeli, one American and one South African...ready to give our all for the cause; we happy few, we band of brothers...

And then the slew of tests and treatment started: blood samples again - this time EIGHT vials, blood pressure and Eh-Keh-Geh (ECG, remember?): "...shirt up please," some icy cold water daubed on my chest, six leech-like, flesh-sucking electrodes applied above my heart, one of each wrist, one on each ankle - Jeez, is this what it's like for a condemned prisoner strapped to a gurney to receive his last medical rites?

, ...and then - the NEEDLE. Here comes Big Nurse, brandishing her collection of experimental fluid-filled ampoules and needles, all neatly laid out on a sterile towel.

And then it was done: followed by a set of instructions delivered in rapid-fire Russian, until they realized that I don't speak much Russian even though at least one of my grandparents came from those climes. "Ah, Ivrit, - lo la'zuz, ti'skav, te'nuach, ha kol yiheye beseder - dont move, just will all be OK."

I hasten to add that I don't normally get 'flu: not in the doses that most people to seem to catch it (claiming multitudinous days off work...). I get it once a year, for 24 hours - that's it. For that one full day, I am a sneezing, dripping, dribbling remnant of a grouchy old fart - and then it's gone. No flu shot, maybe an Acamol (Paracetamol) or two, and certainly a good hot toddy (two tots of Scotch - spoon of honey, warm water...aaaahhhh.) And then I'm back to my normal, pleasant, sunny self.

The trial lasts for two months: the first day was a marathon - we had to be there for eight hours while they checked our vital signs every few hours after the first shot. The rest of the day passed in something of a daze - not a side-effect, just the result of lying about doing nothing except reading, or playing some stupid games on my cellphone when I got tired of reading (I'm becoming a whizz at Sudoku - easy level! ) - then back to my book, then back to my cell-phone, then another test, then back to my book:

Oh, they did feed us (if that's what you call it...) Breakfast was brought in at about 9:00 am - a gourmet rubber omelet (cold) with chopped kibbutz-style salad, kibbutz-style cottage cheese and some vile hot liquid they had the audacity to call herbal tea.

Then at about 1:30, when my stomach thought my throat was cut, (we'd been warned: DO NOT EAT BEFORE THE TESTS); we were served a bowl of that Jewish cure-all which obviously works, because it's served at every hospital throughout Israel - chicken-noodle soup (cold) alongside something in a plastic container. I was sitting at a table with the American member of the team, who asked me what we were supposed to be eating. Was it fish, was it schnitzel, was it some indescribable concoction dredged up from the depths of the hospital’s industrial kitchen...? It turned out to purport itself as schnitzel - cold - with some other stuff and rice, cold...nope, hospital food is NOT for me.

And now we head off into the great unknown: I have to keep a daily record of my temperature (I don't think I'm pregnant), a check on the pinprick where the magic elixir was injected into my system and record if it becomes swollen, or red or itchy. To do this, we were given a square of plastic with various sized holes in it to measure the size of the redness or swelling...and then we go back for a short session next week; and then onward right through until early February. If we survive, we get paid.

Watch this space for the next exciting episode of "General (Research) Hospital..." Sorry, no Dr. Drake Remore, no Grey's Anatomy, no McScrumptious or whatever he's called, no sexy nurses or female clinicians with a mission...just a group of grumpy old men at the mercy of a busy team of dedicated medical staff, trying to find a cure-all - if not for the common cold - then something pretty dam close to it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

For the Past 2,000 Years...

For the past 2,000 years or so, my people have been hounded, persecuted, murdered, tortured, expelled from their homes, beaten, burnt at the stake, gassed and cremated in ovens.

I hardly have to explain that I am talking about the Jews, the people who brought humanity and civilization to the world, who developed a code of ethics and behavior to which most of the modern “civilized” world at least pays lip service; and that gave the Christian world its Savior...

For the past 2,000 years, we have had to endure excruciating trial by fire, be barred from lands in which we had lived for many generations, and be the butt of jokes, derision, hatred, false accusations and calumny.

And yet, we the Jews, forced as we were into trades and professions which the ruling classes didn’t – or couldn’t – handle, became tailors and shoemakers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, because these were the only trades and occupations open to us. Were we good with money? Yes, some of us...because we had to be to survive. We devised strategies to keep us and our families together and alive. We knew how to stash our gold and diamonds and precious possessions, so that if we had to run from a pogrom or an enraged mob in the middle of the night, we only had to grab a pouch containing said valuables and get the hell out of our burning hovels.

We traipsed around Europe for two millennia, moving from place to place to find somewhere we could call home; somewhere we could rest in relative safety; we may have found it in various countries from time to time – we found it in England, when Cromwell allowed the Jews back after they were exiled in the centuries preceding his rule. We found it in Spain in the so-called Golden Age, in which Jews and Moslems are said to have lived in peace and harmony...although there are some that would dispute it was a Golden as it has been made out to be.

We found it in Germany, in the 19th century for a while, where we Jews blossomed, giving rise to philosophers and musicians and cultural leaders, and we assimilated, becoming more German than the Germans: much good it did us.

And then we started finding it in the great emigration movements to the New World: America, Canada, South Africa, Australia – finding that modicum of “shalva”, of being allowed to live and learn, grow and develop without officialdom breathing down our necks, without us being hounded because we were Jews.

That’s not to say that there was a complete absence of anti-Semitism, a complete lack of ignorant hatred or envy or jealousy. Oh, it was there all right: it was always there just below the surface– it was always: “The Jews have got all the money”- well, damn it, I don’t have even a small amount of ALL THE MONEY – and I know quite a few co-religionists who also don’t have any share of ALL THE MONEY...; the Jews are so smart, they’re so clever, why are they the doctors and the lawyers and the bankers? (I for one, am not any of these, and I don't think I'm that "clever" either...)

Well, my friends, as explained above, we were FORCED into those professions because everything else was reserved for everybody else. And there are other logical reasons why the Jews are so "clever" – and yes we ARE! But there’s nothing magic or arcane about it. It’s called genetics and it’s not very difficult to understand. You see, the Jews have always, but always, revered learning; it was the Jews who were the only literate communities in the Middle Ages, when most of the population hardly even had names they could understand. Why do you think the Dukes and Barons and Kings of the day wanted Jews to handle their finances and run their estates for them? Because Jews could read and write...everybody else was pig-ignorant, kept that way by the Church intent on holding on to its own power base.

Even more to the point, from the Middle Ages onward – and probably quite a while before that as well – the eldest Christian son became a knight or at very least a foot-soldier; and more than likely he was killed on the battle field, so there were few progeny there; the second son, usually went into the Church, so because he was supposed to be celibate, there was no progeny (to speak of) there either...but the JEWS!!!! Ha – their sons became Rabbis, and teachers – even if they still had to earn their living as tailors and shoemakers, or moneylenders. Their daughters – homemakers, nurturers par excellence – helped them follow the Biblical injunction: "Go forth and multiply", and they did! And so the brains and the love of learning and the innovation and “cleverness” and family cohesiveness was passed on from generation to generation...through all the fire and brimstone, hatred and death, stoning, beheading and strangulation; persecution and damnation we’ve had to endure.

Until today: In the middle of the 20th century, after the most calamitous, atrocious, terrible, horrendous, brutal, vicious and wicked crime ever perpetrated against man-kind, we found our home. OUR home – Israel; the country for which we had been praying for more than 2000 years; the Golden city we turned towards in hope and grief and penitence every single day of those two millennia since the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans...

And just when we began bidding you in the “Enlightened West” and the “Exotic East” a putative farewell, with the hope of settling quietly and peacefully and industriously in our OWN country – you have the AUDACITY, after all these thousands of years of everything described above, to tell us that we are not allowed to defend ourselves in it!

You have the GALL to say we are acting like barbarians – believe-you-me, we KNOW how barbarians act, we’re experts at barbarian behavior, we’re pretty dammed experienced in it...and you, the so called egalitarian Western world, afraid of offending the forces of evil, afraid of your own shadows lurking in the darkness and fearful that you may be accused of racism and hatred, instead turn your invective against US, the Jews, for wanting nothing more than to live in our own tiny piece of real estate, unmolested, untroubled and unafraid.

If we have to achieve that by being “unfair” to others who would seek bring explosives and weapons into our territory with which to murder us, by searching them, stopping them from entering certain areas, subjecting them to checkpoints and suspicion, well that’s just tough. If the innocent have to suffer along with the guilty, well, blame the guilty, not us. If terrorists use ambulances in which to hide their weapons and bombs, then don’t be surprised if we start searching ambulances.

So now you can justifiably point fingers at us and say, “See, the Jews are no better than the Nazis – see how they treat people, see how they herd them into restricted areas, see how they kill them and murder them...”

Yes, don’t know what you are talking about. You haven’t a clue. You mouth off with platitudes, and falsehoods and half-truths, and pollute the airwaves and the TV channels and the Internet with invective and ignorance. You accuse our soldiers, our young men and women, most of them barely out of school, of deliberately targeting civilians; demanding of them standards which no army in the world can achieve – and yet these young men and women maintain a purity of arms and an ethos in battle which no other army in the world can hope to live up to. Our young soldiers have to exercise moral judgments at a level far beyond their years and life-experience; and they do it, often in a split second. Do they always make the right decisions? No. Do they err on being sometimes too lenient or sometimes too aggressive? Yes, absolutely. Are there those among them who are vicious and racist and only out to “get an Arab, any Arab...” I’m dammed sure there are, and they should be rooted out and punished – and they are.

Are we a perfect society? No – far from it: Do we make mistakes, ya betcha, but we are a society, we are a country, struggling against vastly disproportionate forces (...aah, there’s the “D” word – disproportionate!) trying to stay alive and viable with a tad of sanity in this cesspool of the Middle East. I don’t think we are better or worse than any other modern, democratic, advanced country. We have our dunces and we have our professors (perhaps more than a normal quota): we have our tradesmen and we have our high-tech geniuses (perhaps again, more than the normal quota) and we have our gangsters and we have our lawmakers...some good, some not so good. We have the highest rate of NASDAQ companies, and we have a disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners (Jews and Israelis together); we spend more per capita on scientific development than almost any other country in the world: and we have the highest earnings per capita of ANY country in the Middle East – check it out: you see, we are intent on remaining the brainiest, the smartest, the cleverest, the richest...We take in refugees fleeing from despotic regimes while our neighbors are killing them at the border: we absorb thousands of immigrants every year; and we cope with all this with a population smaller than that of New York City.

So, what's my point? Simply that Israel is a modern, democratic, vibrant, innovative, albeit imperfect country. Simply that after all these thousands of years of being the football of the world, kicked from pillar to post, we have found our home and we intend keeping it. Does this sound like rightwing rhetoric to you? Call it what you will. But you would probably be surprised to find out that I am NOT a right-winger; I didn’t vote for Bibi, I have been an ardent supporter of the left-wing parties since my arrival here 22-years ago and I still support their policies (with a few differences of opinion, but that’s my democratic right, not so?).

I would love to see us freeze – in fact, give up, evacuate – the illegal settlements. I would be very happy to see a vibrant Palestinian state established and thriving alongside – and in cooperation with – Israel. But ALONGSIDE Israel, not INSTEAD of Israel...aye, there’s the rub. Because the rest of the world would be quite content to see Israel dismantled in place of a “democratic (sic) one state for its all people” entity. Here’s a news flash, we are already one state for all its people; anybody who is an Israeli citizen – and many who aren’t – enjoy all the benefits of National Insurance, outstanding health care, the protection of our security forces and the police (often imperfectly, but hey, shit happens), freedom of speech, of worship, of association...point out any other country in this region – and in many other regions – that can boast the same.

We don’t need you to love us and we don’t need to love you: but we will respect your right to sovereignty and self-protection and we expect the same in return. We don’t want you to give us special treatment; just the treatment you would accord any other self-governing, disciplined, well-behaved state. We don’t crave your indulgence – just accept what we are, call us if we do wrong or make mistakes (we will, just like you), as good friends are supposed to, but don’t vilify us and don’t demonize us.

We are not demons: we are just human beings, trying – sometimes failing, but more often than not, succeeding  – to make some significant contributions to the human race.