May 26, 2011

Trump

I really would like to find something nice to say about Donald Trump (other than that he supports Israel). He is about to have a Jewish grandchild after all. I just find him so unappealing, so full of himself with little reason, so vain, so arrogant that my stomach churns at the sight of him. He reminds me of men like Hugh Heffner, flaunting their sexual prowess as they manifestly wither into mummification. Of Arnie Schwarzenegger or Dominique Strauss-Kahn, so full of themselves they think they can treat women as concubines and objects of self-gratification. DSK is proof of the truth of the saying that "the higher the brow, the lower the loins". Schwarzenegger shows how if you take stuff to pump up your muscles your intelligence drains out of your brain and ends up residing between your legs. And Trump is evidence of what happens when you actually believe your own publicity.

Some people say how clever he is. The western value system has chosen a new god, the god of name recognition, self-publicity, PR fluff, and ephemerality. Trump has worshipped at its shrine. A good publicist, a good marketing expert, lots of money, and you make a president. Name recognition leads to publicity leads to money. It is like all those weird Facebook sites that get so many clicks that advertisers want to buy space on them. By hinting he might run for president and by saying silly things it has indeed enhanced his name recognition to the extent that NBC has doubled its offer for another season of "The Apprentice" despite its declining ratings. In that sense he has used the system well.

But on the other hand, anyone with an iota of brain can see what a buffoon he made of himself by ranting on about birth certificates, crazy Chinese, and "motherfuckers". What was Trump thinking? He has no experience in legislation. He has no idea how to speak in public (otherwise he would not need to use swear words, as this only underlines the paucity of his linguistic skills). His grasp of economics is of kindergarten level. You don't rebuild a world of tariffs and barriers if you want your economy to succeed. Protectionism went out with the Whigs, when they refused to repeal the Corn Laws.

His much vaunted real estate empire is based on lending his name to a project for a hefty fee. You get the sucker to take on the risks and administration. Then you laugh all the way to the bank. There are hundreds of law cases now by people stupid enough to have bought into a real estate project because they assumed that Trump's name guaranteed something, only to find their money gone and Trump's name irrelevant. Had his Daddy not left him a fortune, it is unlikely he'd be anything more than a real estate broker now. Neither his airline nor his casinos have survived intact.

Even his TV show--the idea, the writing, the execution--all done by others. All he needs to do is parrot the script. What is the nature of greatness based entirely on name recognition? After all everyone knows if you commit a great crime you will be courted by the media, publishers, and agents, whereas if you are an honest law abiding citizen you will be ignored. I am not saying he didn’t do some things right in his career. But he is a showman who lives by self promotion and it works a lot of the time.

But a warning! As the Bible tells us (in Proverbs), "Let others praise you, not you." But, you may say, it's the game and he pays it well. I have always been suspicious of religious leaders who court publicity. Inevitably those who live by the word die by the word. Yet people seem to think that the more publicity the more successful or the more pious or the more effective a person is. Usually the contrary is true.

No one seems to judge religious leaders any more by how much good they do, only by how often they appear in the media. The hundred "best" rabbis, religious leaders, etc., are based entirely on publicity generated because that's so much easier to see. Pseudo-religious outfits like Scientology and Kabbalah Centres, all feed on publicity, on famous names, on stars (who sparkle at night but disappear in the revealing light of day).

The good side of all this is that there are fewer dirty little secrets. Once you could say one thing to a group of Ku Klux Klan members in Mississippi today and the very opposite to academics at Harvard the next and no one would know any better. So people who do not have either the training in acting like Reagan, or the charisma and ability of a Clinton (or an Obama, to be fair) will be shown up to be disaster areas very quickly. Nowadays the incompetent and the incontinent are soon revealed for what they are. How does it go about "fooling all of the people some of the time" etc? Not that I expect much from anyone in politics. The great crash was engineered by socialist Democrats like Barney Frank as much as by bankers and regulators and they are all still there. No heads have rolled. I am glad that criminals get caught and punished, be they Rubashkins or Madoffs. But "too big to fail" now seems to apply to any crook. Steal millions, you get jail; steal billions, the government bails you out.

Doubtless Trump never really intended to run. Would you leave this man in charge of the store? All his financial affairs would then be scrutinized and that is the last thing Trump would have wanted. Perhaps the one good thing that will come out of it is that some people may realize that the emperor has no clothes, and we should not be looking for emperors either, but for simple "honest men of valor who hate bribes". At least Moses understood that.

May 19, 2011

Dirty Photos

Most people around the world will have seen the photograph of the group of men and women who sat in the White House lair during the raid on "O" (that’s Osama not Obama, of course). What some may not have seen is the Photoshopped version published by a Chasidic newspaper in New York called Der Zeitung, in which the two females in the room, including Hillary Clinton, were removed. As they explained, "We do not publish pictures of women in our newspaper." Never mind that they have broken the law by tampering with an official White House document. When did they ever give a toss about the law? That's surely, as Nietzsche would have said, only for the others. Once again they have succeeded admirably in making a laughingstock out of Orthodox Judaism, as if we didn't already have enough problems.


But of course this is not new. Anyone familiar with ultra-Orthodox schoolssuch as the Yesodei Hatorah in Antwerp knows that their authorities regularly go through state textbooks cutting out unsuitable pictures. I recall when the Hasmonean High School in London put stickers over naked African breast in a geography textbook. The amusing thing is the mindset of God's policemen. They are so completely out of touch they were unaware that most of the children they were trying to protect from corruption spend the summer vacations around Mediterranean resorts where they play in and out and round about females in bikinis and topless (not all of them likely to offer any temptation).


If Hillary had been naked or her décolletage was unseemly, I might feel less strongly. But she was very modestly dressed and demur and there was nothing sexually arousing about her unless you include her hair. But then Donald Trump’s is more likely to arouse than hers. I find it offensive to women that the fundamentalists of all shades expect them to be non-persons, Photoshopped out of history and cover themselves from tip to toe while no one questions what’s wrong with men they are so easily turned to paroxysms of sexual lust. Let’s blame their wives. It’s all Eve’s fault. If you don’t want to see a woman find another photograph or print a picture of a beard instead. Don’t mislead.


There is a problem, I agree, with the way sex is thrown into one's face at many street corners in open societies. I am embarrassed by much of what is available on primetime television. I'm not sure I'd want to go to see many movies nowadays in the company of my grown children any more, for fear of feeling acutely uncomfortable at what I might be shown. The extent to which youngsters are exposed, encouraged, and pressurized to throw off any kind of restraint or self control is frightening. The Free World has disseminated devalued, degraded, and trivialized sex to the point that it seems no different to sucking a lollipop. But what is the response? To retreat into a cocoon? To bury one's head like an ostrich? As the Good Book says "stolen waters are sweeter, secret bread tastes better".


The fact is that closed societies still have problems: domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse. They are all there hidden under the black. Where would you rather live? Under the Taliban or Times Square? The more you close up a society, the more the evil runs underground. People think they can get away with things because they are protected by the ayatollahs. Ayatollahs and rabbis think they can get away with it because their gear gives them privileges. It is no different to the way the rich sexually used and abused the poor in Victorian times and before.


Behavioral constraints are one thing. We are all constrained in one way or another by laws, rules, taxes, conventions, and social pressure. It's the attempt to control the mind I despise most of all, because that teaches hypocrisy. It teaches people not to think for themselves, which leads to the worst form of dictatorship. It is like education. One must encourage and guide people to think for themselves. Otherwise it is called indoctrination. And you know where that word comes from!


Moses Mendelssohn, in his book "Jerusalem", asserted that Judaism had no dogmas. By this he meant to differentiate Judaism as a religion of behavior, ethical and ritual, from Christianity as a religion of theology. Although he was an impeccably Orthodox Jew, he was excoriated by Eastern European Orthodoxy for enabling assimilation by translating the Bible into German. Tell that to Artscroll!!! The sad fact that his children converted out had more to do with the anti-Semitism of European society and the desire to get on in life than it did with genuine religious faith.


Several modern thinkers, amongst them Menachem Kellner and Marc Shapiro, have highlighted the fact that historically Jewish thought has been highly flexible and un-dogmatic and the current Orthodoxy of Thought is not typical. This doesn't mean that anything goes and nothing matters. There are basic ideas and principles that have to be engaged with, but the Bible never uses the expression "You must believe that..." It invites one to engage, emotionally just as much as intellectually. Our traditional texts wisely avoid defining and wisely avoid trying to control minds. There are views that are heterodox. But so long as you live in a way the Torah approves of, that is what matters.


That is what I despair about and dislike in so much of religion around the world now. Any thing challenging must be wrong. If you find a text that is problematic, instead of dealing with it, say it must be a forgery. Powerful rabbis for years have been saying this about new commentaries unearthed in ancient libraries; opinions, even expressed by renowned giants, that the pygmies do not approve of, must be forgeries. Muslim scholars now do this over recently discovered variants in early Koran manuscripts.


It is all part of the same pathology. If you don't like the argument, pretend it isn't there. There's something you don't want to see? Photoshop it out and it's gone. It is gone in the minds of the censors, but human minds are beautifully flexible things. You can damage them but they are resilient.


Website Note: The complete text of several of Jeremy's books have been added to the Jeremy Rosen Online website, including historical works about Kopul Rosen and Carmel College, as well as fictional stories. These books are also available to purchase in bound form through Lulu.com. Additionally, the website has been upgraded such that comments can be made on any and all of Jeremy's writings. So feel free to take advantage of the new functionality to let Jeremy know what you think.

May 13, 2011

Gulled By Gul

I am constantly amazed at the idiots politicians make of themselves when they say stupid things. They should know better. And the only defense I hear are such pathetic excuses as, "He has to satisfy his coalition partners, the street, his constituency or his mother-in-law." Take Bibi. Of course we know that Hamas wants to liberate Tel Aviv. The apparent deal between them and Fatah is as likely to last as long as the old United Arab Republic merger between Egypt and Syria. But why raise such a hue and a cry and cut off cash to Fatah? All it signals is Israeli obduracy, stubbornness and pathetic disregard for PR. Not only but the EU, those wonderfully neutral lovers of double talk, responded by doubling the subsidy they give. Why couldn't he just have said, "I welcome anything that may bring peace"? The devil is indeed in the details. Words are easy. No, I don't trust words. But would a little tact do any harm? PR won't guarantee survival. Just as America fools itself if it thinks there's anything it can do or say that will get Osama's followers to love it. But good PR is good for morale. It won't harm.

Take the president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul. You know and I know what his agenda really is. But he at least knows how to say things that sound good even if in fact they mask something else. He wrote an article to the New York Times (April 21) which perfectly sums up the blindness and self-delusion of so much of the supposedly moderate Middle Eastern world. It returns to the old canard that if only there were to be a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict everything would be hunky-dory in the Middle East. It calls on Israel to stop blocking peace, but not on the Palestinians. It implies that Israel exclusively is an apartheid state. It focuses on "the mote" in Israel and not on "the beam" in the Arab world. It ignores the crucial politics of the situation in which it is the Arab League offering a deal and not the Palestinians themselves precisely because half of the potential Palestinian state does not want peace under any circumstances.

How would Mr. Gul like it if I were to write the truth about Turkey describing it as an apartheid state that has consistently discriminated against and murdered thousands of its Kurds? That it has a record of Armenian genocide which it refuses to come to terms with or compensate the survivors for, and it diverts attention from its own crimes by trying to focus on others elsewhere? Why cannot Mr. Gul accept that the real problem in the Middle East is that Muslims/Arabs kill Muslims/Arabs ( or Copts for a change). Why this continuing desire to blame others, to find scapegoats, preferably Jewish ones, and to believe it will all be solved by someone else? Why the belief that it is all about external intervention and nothing to do with internal corruption?

I agree with much of what Gul says. Of course it would be in Israel's interest to make peace. But with whom? Under what conditions? Gul writes:

"I call upon the leaders of Israel to approach the peace process with a strategic mindset, rather than resorting to short-sighted tactical maneuvers. This will require seriously considering the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative, which proposed a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders and fully normalized diplomatic relations with Arab states."

Let him call on the Arabs to do exactly the same, and accepting Bill Clinton’s proposals. Perhaps he is right that Israel makes tactical maneuvers. Doesn't everyone else in the area? If the Arab League had not intervened in Palestine in 1947 and refused UN Partition, if it had not invaded in 1948, there would have been a Palestinian state. If the Arab League had not refused at Khartoum in 1967 to negotiate at all, there would have been a Palestinian state. And if Yassir Arafat had been told to accept Bill Clinton's proposal, there would have been a Palestinian state. But all the time the Arab League made this a proxy war, made all the wrong decisions, and now calls on Israel to return to what? To borders? What borders? There was no agreement on borders in '48 , '67, or any other time. There were armistice lines, ceasefire lines, but no one on the Arab side was willing to agree to anything because they did then and do now still believe they will eventually get everything they want--namely the strangulation and elimination of Israel.

The Arab League offer was and is an obfuscation. It never raised the issue of Jerusalem, conquered and stolen in 1948 by the Arab Legion. It never addressed security issues or disarmament, and it refused to consider negotiations over refugees. It still refuses to accept that there are even more Jewish refugees forced out of Arab lands. Until these issues are discussed, everything else is just a slogan.

Of course I agree Israel has made serious mistakes and could have done better and should have done better. Yes it manhandles, mishandles and treats too many people including its own with disdain and aggression. But are Hamas Palestinians are all fuzzy-wuzzy softies and only the Israelis tough bastards? And if some Palestinians slit innocent throats and others glorify them, it is Israel's fault for brutalizing them? I suppose Israel is to blame in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Chechnya, Indonesia, Iraq, Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Qatar, to name only the obvious ones.

"Sticking to the unsustainable status quo will only place Israel in greater danger. History has taught us that demographics is the most decisive factor in determining the fate of nations."

The history of Judaism, Mr Gul, is the history of survival against odds and for far longer than Islam. Since when do numbers either decide justice or guarantee survival?

"In the coming 50 years, Arabs will constitute the overwhelming majority of people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. The new generation of Arabs is much more conscious of democracy, freedom, and national dignity."

So who will the new Arabs be, Mr. Gul? Does revolution necessarily mean progress?
"In such a context, Israel cannot afford to be perceived as an apartheid island surrounded by an Arab sea of anger and hostility."


But who is the real apartheid criminal here? Israelis wanted to stay on in Sinai after it was handed back, even if they would be under Egyptian rule. Who refused? Many settlers are willing to stay on the West Bank when it becomes Palestine. Who is refusing? Where is the real apartheid? Israel has Muslim and Arab citizens; Israeli Christians are allowed to build churches. No it’s not good enough. But it’s better than the Saudis.

"Turkey's track record in the years before Israel's Gaza operation in December 2008 bears testimony to our dedication to achieving peace. Turkey is ready to play the role it played in the past, once Israel is ready to pursue peace with its neighbors."

Once, Turkey might have been an honest broker. But no longer. Its one-sided support of the Gaza flotillas was despite Israel's offer to transfer all humanitarian aid overland. It refused to consider that the Marvi Marmara hoodlums might have had a small part to play in the disaster. Even before the Gaza issue, Erdogan and others were insulting President Peres and other senior Israelis in the public arena. Turkey cannot be an honest broker. It cannot even be honest with itself.

"Moreover, it is my firm conviction that the United States has a long-overdue responsibility to side with international law and fairness when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."

International law? Which law do you have in mind? Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, dear Mr. Gul. Why haven't Turkish Cypriots abided by international law? And you have said nothing. And once again you echo the Arab complaint that it is all America's fault. America must solve the problem. Not the Arabs.

I see no honesty, no realism even from you, Mr. Gul. You are just another politician. Who will Israel negotiate with? What partners will they have in an Egypt dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood? Who will replace Abdullah in Jordan, Assad in Syria? Will they be Hamas clones? Israel would be mad to negotiate with proxies when the real feet on the ground will just as likely be Allahu Ahkbar Jihadis.

I don't like the barrier wall, but it worked. It saved lives. I don't like unilateralism. I want peaceful negotiations. But until Israel knows what sort of regimes will emerge from the present chaos, Israel must be on its guard. And it should beware of Turks "bearing gifts".

May 05, 2011

OBL

When your enemy falls, do not rejoice. (Proverbs 24)

Of course I am delighted that Osama Bin Laden has been sent to his grave. Doubtless there are billions of other humans who are mourning his loss. I wonder how all those children named Osama or Usama after him are feeling today; I am sure a goodly percentage of them will aspire to follow in his bloody footsteps.

But I am sad, too. Every time I have seen Arabs and Muslims rejoice over the deaths of women and children I have felt positively sick at their primitive and barbaric bloodlust. Modern communication enables us to see this revolting behavior. I cannot erase from my mind the way young men dipped their hands in the blood of those two Israeli reservists who were torn to death when they strayed into enemy territory, or the celebrations in Gaza when young Israeli children were wantonly slit apart in their beds. I know War is War and both sides want to win. But I always derived quiet satisfaction from the fact that you never saw Israelis dance in the streets when Palestinians were killed. There might have been rogue soldiers and acts of brutality. There have been coldblooded Mafiosi killings and rapes in Tel Aviv. But the mood of the Jewish people, has never been one to rejoice in public displays of delight at the death of others.

It is ingrained in our tradition that every human being, however malevolent, is still a creature of God. So on Passover when we celebrate the overthrow of an Egyptian tyrant who made Bin Laden look like Cinderella, we are commanded at the seder to reduce the amount of wine we drink in memory of the suffering of the Egyptians. Then after the first day we recite a shortened Hallel prayer of thanks because, according to the Midrash, God told his angels, "My children have died in the Red Sea how can you sing songs?"

It is true we sang songs of deliverance when we survived Pharaoh's pursuit at the Red Sea. It is true Devorah sang her song of deliverance when the Canaanite chariots of Sisera were caught in the Jabok floods. She uttered those famous words, "thus may all your enemies perish", and I identify of course with that sentiment. May those who try to destroy the Jews and their land perish indeed and may those Jew who behave inhumanly go the same way. But nevertheless, there is a difference between rejoicing at one's survival and rejoicing at the deaths of other human beings.

The Talmud tells that Rebbi Meir was suffering because of local gangsters and prayed for their deaths. His wife, Bruria, asked him to stop and instead pray for the death of evil. One can hate evil people but that is not the same as celebrating their elimination.

Bin Ladin, the successor to the medieval Muslim Assassins, was the manifestation of the distorted tradition of jihad which has been as twisted out of its spiritual meaning as has the notion of crusade in Christianity, and (lehavdil) the idea of a Chosen People, on a purely theoretical level. All of them are, in spiritual abstract, no more than a call to be a better person. Sadly, in Islam it has led to actions that consistently belie a vision of peace that is said to give Islam its name. The history of all religions is the history of religious fanaticism all but destroying the purer visions of their idealistic messages.

Nevertheless, I did not enjoy watching the reaction in the USA to the announcement of OBL’s death. I noticed that most of those who survived 9/11 and relatives of those who perished expressed quiet satisfaction. I did not see them dancing in the streets. I can understand the army recruits who celebrated wildly because so many of them may still lose their lives in the battle against fanaticism, oppressive dictators, and mullahs. But still I found the Times Square and Washington parties more reminiscent of a Saturday night club frenzy or frat raves on campuses. Obama was dignified in his moment of triumph and success. They were not.

I fail to understand the Western mentality that still thinks it is possible to do business with religious fanaticism. Hamas condemning Bin Laden's death and lauding him as a great Muslim hero rationally shows how far their real mental state is from peaceful coexistence. It is clear Bin Laden was sheltered in a military zone in Pakistan, next door to an army academy and surrounded by retired generals. Is this the sort of failed state the West should be funding? And why, while the American economy is in such dire straits and the welfare of its peaceful citizens is at risk through lack of funds, are billions being spent supporting the corrupt, two-faced Karzai in Afghanistan?

I applaud striking at evil dictators who massacre their own (and OBL killed more Muslims than anyone else). I certainly don't expect the UN or any organization that can invite Syria to sit on a Humans Right Council to approve or agree. But just because others lose their sense of humanity in the pursuit of political power, we must not.