Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

As Jews we get to celebrate the New Year twice, once in synagogue in the fall and again in winter with the rest of the world.  Both are significant.
On this last day of 2010, I think it appropriate to bring out a human rights blog and to look back at
this past year. It has not been a good one from the standpoint of human rights around the world and here
at home in Israel, yet I am the forever, maybe foolish, optimist and continue to hope for better things
in the future and to make my little efforts to try to bring them about. Last Friday we went to a
demonstration in Tel Aviv on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. In common with many other presumably enlightened nations, Israel is doing its best to get rid of people who are fleeing for their lives from conflicts in Darfur in Sudan and Eritrea among other places.

Above I show a few scenes from the
demonstration. It gives a ray of hope to see so many young people turning out to struggle on behalf of
principles of liberal democracy in which we all fervently believe.

I say all, but in fact, as we look around the world and at our local scene, it is possible to wonder if
these values are as universal as we would like them to be. In Pakistan there are blasphemy laws under
which a Christian woman has been recently sentenced to death for presumably insulting Islam. An attempt to liberalize this law and to make convictions more difficult has given rise to nation wide protests and strikes, which is indeed chilling. All over the world, we see gross human rights violations and the struggle to protect human rights becomes more difficult.. I recommend going to the  Amnesty International web site to see a podcast that summarizes the state of human rights in the world.

Last time I showed a case of human rights violation that did not involve a government, the burning of a
so-called witch in Ghana. Africa again provides the current example, the vile belief  in "corrective"  rape of lesbian women that is supposed to "straighten them out.". It is common in South Africa. For details and a petition by Avaaz to the government of South Africa to make this a hate crime, go to this site.

A victim of "corrective rape"

Press freedom in Hungary has come under attack.
Despite unanimous opposition from leading media freedom organizations, the Hungarian parliament has adopted a controversial law overhauling the state-owned media and creating a Media Council with utterly disproportionate powers. The law was passed by an overwhelming majority of votes (256 to 87) on 21 December.
Appointed directly by the government, the Media Council’s five members will not only have a right of oversight but also the authority to impose heavy fines (of up to 700,000 euros for a TV station and 89,000 euros for an online publication) for content that is “not politically balanced” or “violates human dignity.”

It is ironic that this law is coming into effect just as Hungary assumes the  rotating presidency of the European  Union.  Indeed there is major opposition in the EU to this edict.  For details of the law and  the reactions to it 
click.  See also Reporters without Borders.


A Special Place In Hell
Dante said there is a special place reserved in hell for those who do nothing in a time of moral crisis. Martin Luther King wrote (from jail) that he is less distressed about the evil of the bad than about the indifference of the good.    A few weeks ago I saw a sign of hope in the young people who turned out for the Human Rights Day march and again for the refugee rally (see above).   The fact that there are groups such as Combatants for Peace.  (see also their blog alongside) 
can be an indication that not everyone here is riding on the wave of racism and sliding down the slippery slope to a fascist type regime.
I advisedly do not say fascist since there is no need for a fascist takeover in Israel.  The people themselves are embracing racism and extreme nationalism with no need for a charismatic leader of the Hitler/Mussolini/Franco type.  It boils down to a rejection of the values of liberal democracy in favor of a Jewish sectarian jingoism.  Indeed there is a candidate for the fascist leadership, our wonderful foreign minister, Lieberman, but I personally doubt that he will ever be able to get the religious right to support  him because of his constituency of immigrants from the former Soviet Union whose claim to being Jewish in the religious sense is often dubious.
Of course  I could be wrong since, as pointed out by Bradley Burston,  
it may well be that Lieberman is the only choice left to a public that is not willing to pay the price of peace and is willing to follow his perverted path,  while the  left appears to be emasculated and divided.  The lovely Human Rights Day march was a joint effort of 130 human rights organizations--go figure. 
in a thought-provoking article in The Atlantic addresses the issue of the possible loss of democratic values in Israel.  It is of course connected to the Occupation, but it runs even deeper.  The late Prof. Yaakov Talmon spoke of the anti-liberal streak running through Zionist ideology and the lack of toleration for deviant views. 
An example of this is the recent decree by major rabbis that Jews must not sell or lease property to Arabs.  Once upon a time there were contracts like that in the US aimed against Jews, but that is all in the past.  Here we see Orthodox Judaism in all its ferocious ugliness.   Let us read a quote from their terrible document:
"The neighbors and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed." 
As, again, Bradley Burston writes about them: 
"In their level-eyed bigotry, their ironclad insensitivity, their untouchable, corrupting, bureaucracy-based immunity, they have taught us finally to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain of Oral Law."
For a full discussion  of this issue click on the link.  To be fair I must quote the enlightened rabbis around the world
who have come out against this abomination.  I wonder how many of them are Orthodox.
The Israeli Army Strikes Again   this time killing Jawaher Abu Rahmah a 30 year old woman from Bil'in who died of tear gas asphyxiation.  Her brother Bassem was killed by the Army in April 2009 while demonstrating against the Separation Wall in Bil'in.
Activists fleeing tear gas at Bil'in 31.12.10
En route to a chamber music concert in Tel Aviv this evening we participated in a demonstration against the wanton killing of demonstrators by the army. 

We see another example of religious obscurantism in the refusal of the family of Avi Cohen the football star  , who was killed in an accident to allow his organs to be transplanted.  He carried a donor card, as many of us do, in the belief that his organs would be used to save lives.  Unfortunately these cards are not legally binding and while most rabbis have agreed to the brain death criterion, some of the ultra type demand heart stoppage after which the organs are useless.  It is sad that the family allowed themselves to be convinced by these rabbis.  We are indeed a Third World country, alas.

Finally, we have our beloved ex-president Moshe Katzav who was convicted on two counts of rape and sexual assault of three female employees who worked for him at various times   by a District Court panel of three judges in Jerusalem on Thursday.  He denied the charges and rejected a plea bargain.
In addition, Katzav was found guilty of obstruction of justice. 
If you want more details of this sordid tale, here they are.

Of course, I cannot let you escape without a Gene Weingarten Below the Beltway.
It deals with driving by men and women and is interesting as well as amusing.  I might mention that my late wife Daphne had an absolute phobia about left turns, as did the mother of  Gene's conversation partner.

 Andy Borowitz updates us on the latest from Orly Taitz and the birther movement..


  1. The Gene Weingarten column is a sweet and socially acceptable method of spreading prejudice, but as an excellent if too daring woman driver it annoys me. Why propagate these stereotypes? They don't apply to the women I know.

  2. Janie, I would not have posted it if I had thought it spread prejudice. Most men would not drive backward from DC to Philadelphia, but I do not take offense at the stereotype of the testosterone overload. It even amuses me except when some idiot is endangering my life and his on the highway. I live in Israel which is machoville and these guys are pretty ridiculous. Thanks for reading my blog.