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Israel at a Turning Point: Jonathan Adelman, Huffington Post, Feb. 2, 2015 —The news today about Israel is often negative.
Theories Over Death of Alberto Nisman Stir Dark Memories in Argentina: Stephanie Nolen, Globe & Mail, Jan. 30, 2015 — Was the death of Alberto Nisman intended as a message?
Remembering Auschwitz and the Enormity of Evil: Rex Murphy, National Post, Jan. 31, 2015— January 27th was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the most infamous beyond infamy of the Nazi factories of torment and death.
‘Pugnacious Zionist’ Martin Gilbert Was the Chronicler of Modern Jewry: Jenni Frazer, Times of Israel, Feb. 4, 2015 — To the outside world, Sir Martin Gilbert was an eminent historian, a member of Britain’s Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot, and – overall – Churchill’s biographer.
'Accountant of Auschwitz' To Go On Trial in Germany in April: Ynet, Feb. 4, 2015
A Murder in Argentina: Clifford D. May, Natioanl Post, Jan. 29, 2015
Balancing Faith and Reason: Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 2, 2014
A Diamond Among Diamonds: Dovid Winiarz OB”M: Sandy Eller, Jewish Press, Jan. 30, 2014
Huffington Post, Feb. 2, 2015
The news today about Israel is often negative. While 135 nations have recognized a Palestinian state, the PLO has gained admission to the International Criminal Court where it wants Israel to be found guilty of war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A recent study found that the State Department has cited Israel as the #4 state in the world for "unacceptable behavior." Already one of the most hated countries in the world, Israel faces a new wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Europe and is surrounded by radical Islamic fundamentalist groups including Hamas (Gaza), Hizbollah (Lebanon), ISIS (Syria and Iraq) and Al Nusra (former Syrian Golan Heights).
The threat to Israel is at a level not seen since 1948 and 1967. The highest level of existential threat is posed by Iran and a "soft" nuclear deal that would leave it on the threshold of having nuclear weapons. With most Israelis living in 3,400 square miles, only two atomic bombs could kill nearly one million Israelis. Iranian bases, 700 miles from Israel, would need only 11 minutes to fire missiles that could hit Tel Aviv.
The second moderate level of threat is the 100,000 missiles and rockets that Hizbollah possesses in Lebanon. Several thousand rockets could hit any target in Israel with more accuracy than Hamas' weapons. In war Ben Gurion International Airport would likely be shut down, thousands of Israelis might be killed and Hizbollah might try an invasion of the northern Galilee. The lowest level of threat would come from the radical Islamic groups near Israel's border who could kill dozens or hundreds of Israelis.
Yet, perhaps surprisingly, there has also been much positive news about Israel. This year 15,000 French Jews are likely moving to Israel and 50,000 could come in the next five years. In a region lacking any Arab democratic states, Israel is holding its 20th democratic election since its founding in 1948. Egypt has closed 80% of its tunnels with Hamas-ruled Gaza. General Al Sisi has called for a "religious revolution" among Moslems and repeatedly ordered attacks on 2,000 jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula. The Syrian civil war has driven one million Sunnis into Lebanon, thereby decreasing the power of Shiite Hizbollah already mired down in fighting in Syria. The Syrian civil war has lessened any Syrian threat as the country has fractured into feuding Alawite, Kurdish and radical jihadist areas. Saudi Arabia and the UAE see Israel as a counterweight to Shiite Iran. The Saudi cleric, Iyad Madani, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, just paid an unprecedented visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Jordan has turned even closer to Israel from fear of ISIS.
Israel has developed strong relations with three BRIC countries. India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to develop closer relations with Israel, especially in the development and military arenas. Sino-Israeli trade is moving towards 10 billion dollars. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently denounced anti-Semitism and compared the importance of Crimea to Russians to the Temple Mount's importance to Moslems and Jews. Despite its small size, Israel has emerged as a top 5 high tech nation in the world with over 20 billion dollars of high tech exports. A MIT-Skolkovo study found Technion to be sixth among 120 universities in high tech entrepreneurship and innovation. The Global Cleantech Index named Israel as the #1 innovator globally in clean technology. The United States (Roosevelt Island), Russia (Skolkovo) and China (Shantou) have asked Israel and Technion to partner in developing hi-tech zones and universities. Tel Aviv is #2, after Silicon Valley, as the best place in the world to bring out a start-up in high tech.
Israel exports seven billion dollars of weapons a year. This provides futuristic defense systems ranging from the relatively simple Iron Dome to the highly complex Arrow 3 anti-missile system under development. Its military intelligence, as seen by its successful attack on Hizbollah leaders in Syria this week, is excellent. Even unexpected events — the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Israel and the massive fall of oil prices costing the Iranians tens of billions of dollars — show there is hope for Israel. Israel today faces great dangers — and also great opportunities.
Globe & Mail, Jan. 30, 2015
Was the death of Alberto Nisman intended as a message? And if so, who sent it? After two weeks of near-unceasing drama, this uneasy question hovers over the Argentine capital. Mr. Nisman was a special prosecutor tasked with investigating one of the most brutal terror attacks in Latin American history. He was found dead on Sunday of a gunshot wound in the bathroom of his elegant Buenos Aires apartment. He had been set to testify on Monday to Congress about charges he filed implicating President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, her Foreign Minister and political aides in a plot to cover up Iranian responsibility for the suicide truck bombing of a 1994 Jewish community centre here that killed 85 people.
Police are investigating whether Mr. Nisman killed himself or was murdered, a question still not answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Ms. Fernandez de Kirchner first vigorously proclaimed his death a suicide – and now just as fiercely says he was murdered. Few Argentines are likely to trust any official conclusions in the case, given this country’s history of political state violence and how deeply the government’s tentacles still reach into the police and the judiciary.
But in cafés beneath bright awnings, and at scarred wooden tables in parilla steakhouses, theories are debated intensely. The cast of potential suspects includes assassins sent by the President or her allies to eliminate a critic and frighten others following his work; the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah seeking to shut down the investigation of its patron, Iran; and the President’s own latest favourite that Mr. Nisman died at the hands of rogue agents from Argentina’s shadowy domestic spy service.
The theories are so complicated, and sometimes so lacking in logic, that it is difficult to imagine them being floated, let alone seriously debated in endless television coverage, in any country but this one, so steeped in political division and dark history. If it was murder, carried out on the watch of an elite security detail, the specific message remains opaque. But the larger tactic is perfectly clear, and it has unsettled many Argentines, stirring dark memories of an era they had hoped they were leaving behind. “It’s like a signal: nobody else investigate power,” said Patricia Bullrich, spreading worried hands across her dining room table. “It’s like when drug traffickers send a message: stop here or you will be next.” Ms. Bullrich, an opposition member of Congress from a patrician family with shifting political ties, chairs the parliamentary committee that had called Mr. Nisman to testify. She spoke to him two days before he died, and recalled in an interview this week that he seemed utterly normal – just tired, a bit worried. Not remotely suicidal.
She is among those who believe his accusations against the President had merit. She says she knows he built the case on 5,000 hours worth of wiretapped telephone conversations. “But I can’t imagine the President gave the order to go and kill him,” Ms. Bullrich added, her brow creased with anxiety beneath heavy auburn bangs. Plenty of other powerful people, however, might have been keen to silence Mr. Nisman to demonstrate the price of asking questions. It’s a blunt-force mode of communication in a country where most people have vivid memories of life under dictatorship. “It’s the return of political violence,” Ms. Bullrich said. “That is the feeling. Can you sense it?” The prosecutor’s death is profoundly damaging for Argentina, where an air of progress on some key national issues has been sharply undermined by the tumultuous events of the past few weeks.
Mr. Nisman, known as a hard-working federal prosecutor with a tendency for the occasional grandstanding accusation, took charge of investigating the AMIA bombing – it is known by the name of the community centre – in 2004. It was already a politically charged file. In the late 1990s, a group of Argentinian police officers and others were brought to trial on charges of assisting in the bombing, but were acquitted after the judge and investigators were found to have faked evidence and bribed witnesses. A new series of indictments alleges those irregularities extended all the way to the office of former president Carlos Menem, who is among eight people expected to go on trial for obstruction of justice in that case in June. Then, on Jan. 14, Mr. Nisman filed a stunning charge sheet with a judge. President Fernandez de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, he said, had conspired with Iranian officials to cover up the role of Iranian nationals in the bombing. The allegation is that they subverted the course of a nationally important investigation – in effect, as a senior legal official described it in an off-the-record conversation about the charges, they committed treason.
Mr. Nisman said that he had uncovered hints of the alleged plot in the course of his AMIA work, and it so disturbed him he had no option but to pursue it. Essentially he said that Ms. Fernandez de Kirchner, eager to build ties with Iran and bolster an economy crippled by her government’s policies, made a secret deal with Iran to cover up Iranian involvement in the bombing. That deal, he charged, was made before the countries publicly agreed in 2013 to work together on a so-called Truth Commission to investigate the attack. Under the secret deal, Mr. Nisman alleged, said Argentina would drop the Interpol notices for seven Iranian suspects in the bombing, and redirect its investigation away from Iran, likely onto a local fascist organization. In exchange Argentina would trade food for Iranian oil. The pact was allegedly brokered by aides including Luis D’Elia, a provocative left-wing social activist who dealt with Mohsen Rabbani, the former Iranian cultural attaché in Buenos Aires who some believe was the mastermind of the bombing. Ms. Bullrich compares it to the idea of a U.S. president conspiring with Osama Bin laden on a 9/11 truth commission; she called it “a very dark, illegal negotiation with people not in government.”
Reactions to the Nisman charge cleaved along political lines, in accordance with the roughly equal parts admiration and loathing inspired by President Fernandez de Kirchner, a champagne socialist with a flair for populism and a fierce with-me-or-against-me political ethic. Those who hate the President, and there are many, are fully prepared to believe she ordered the prosecutor killed. “She has a sick hunger for power and to keep it she is capable of anything,” said Gabriel Levinas, author of a book about the bombing and commentator on a prominent current-affairs program with the Clarin media group, with which she has battled. Supporters of the President reject the Nisman indictment as legally flimsy and full of fantastic and baseless allegations. A former Interpol chief has said that the Argentine government never tried to get the warrants on the Iranians lifted, noted Horacio Verbitsky, a prominent investigative journalist who also heads a human rights organization. He also pointed out that Argentina does not import the petroleum products Iran sells. In an interview in his book-lined living room, he waved a copy of the Nisman denuncio, fringed in Post-it notes, then threw up his hands. “It’s self-contradictory and rebuffed by reality. It’s an impossible crime.”…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
National Post, Jan. 31, 2015
January 27th was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the most infamous beyond infamy of the Nazi factories of torment and death. It was here the “blood-dimmed tide” unleashed by Hitler reached its most swollen, where a million Jews went in unspeakable humiliation and pain to their end. Anniversaries, perhaps especially those of the most grim event, provoke recollection, and in the case of the Holocaust in particular are meant to reinforce memories. “Lest we forget” is not an idle injunction. Some things have to be remembered.
The capture and famous trial of Adolf Eichmann was perhaps the real beginning of Holocaust memorialization, certainly the key event that pushed the horrors of the Nazi era back into the mind of the world. Yet curiously, the most singular account of that trial, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, gave birth to a terrible shorthand description of that period in its subtitle: A Report on the Banality of Evil. That one phrase, “the banality of evil,” has become a commonplace, a near-signature designation for events so much larger than the words it encompasses. It is grotesquely inadequate, utterly wrong.
The scale and depth of the horrors of the extermination machine, invented, set in motion, and kept demonically in exercise for the entire six years of war, are not so much diminished as sidelined, obscured and obliterated from primary notice by Arendt’s semantic sleight of phrase. Nazi evil reached nearly unscalable dimensions, possessed an inverted, perverted sublimity — a negative sublime, for which of all words in all languages “banality” is the last and least it suggests. When we think or read of Auschwitz and its brethren slaughterhouses, most of us don’t have ready or adequate words for its scene — and even in the highest poetry it is difficult to find worthy correlatives, though Milton’s words on Hell are, singularly, very close: No light; but rather darkness visible//Served only to discover sights of woe,//Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace//And rest can never dwell, hope never comes//That comes to all, but torture without end …
Auschwitz was a scene not of banality, but enormity — of vast, incomprehensible, massive evil. The operative understanding is not simply the “enormousness” which the associate word instantly implies, but far more centrally the essence of the act being denoted — evil. Enormity is not, first, a word of magnitude; it speaks cardinally of evil and disaster. It is a word of judgment far more than measure. Banality is so far removed from this dimension, is so placid, clinical and even self-satisfied a term — it is, in the worst sense, a writer’s word — that it will not do as anything more than a smart, blunt effort at facile paradox. Arendt was wrong, wrong from the very beginning to deploy it, and however much, in whatever sense it has been used since to dismiss, scorn or reduce Eichmann, it has also been wrong. It is a spectacular misreading. Her error lies in taking the reading of Eichmann’s personality, his demeanour, his dull face, his “boring” presentation of himself, as ascriptive of the character of the deeds which he ruthlessly and with such passionate (not banal) efficiency pursued.
The phrase is the very end chord of her long piece, in which she dismisses Eichmann’s speech from the gallows as “grotesquely silly,” and his thoughts and words as rancid with cliché. But the famous equation that concludes the coda is not about Eichmann. It is about evil: “It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.” That the sadist fanatic in the Israeli dock had no horns and didn’t speak with the manic fluency of his master, Hitler, emphatically does not mean the “work” he superintended with such reptilian frigidity was banal, or that the moral category in which it was so perfectly enfolded — Evil — was itself banal. An easy but unpalatable speculation discloses the error quite succinctly. Were it Hitler that day on the gallows, would his dark, fearsome charisma have suggested a different ascription — the insanity of evil, the monstrousness of evil? Or bloated Goering — would he have suggested the gaudiness, the bestial appetency of evil?
Arendt’s urge for a flare of originality, a reach after cleverness, betrayed her, but such was the unexpectedness of the conjunction between the two key words — banality and evil — that her phrase has become fixed in altogether too many glancing minds as something of an assessment. It lowers the moral and intellectual temperature of the reality of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and all those other halls of Hell. Banality is not a word that serves history or language, and “banality of evil” is a hollow, nullifying, profoundly — let me borrow Arendt’s term — silly formulation. Seventy years on from Auschwitz, 54 years after the trial that seized the mind of the world, it is past time to retire it.
Times of Israel, Feb. 4, 2015
To the outside world, Sir Martin Gilbert was an eminent historian, a member of Britain’s Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot, and – overall – Churchill’s biographer. But to the Jewish world Martin Gilbert, who died Tuesday, was a passionate Jew and Zionist, a Soviet Jewry campaigner and chronicler of the Holocaust, repeatedly using his forensic skills to unpick telling details of the Jewish experience in the 20th century.
Just over 10 years ago this writer sat for two fascinating hours as Gilbert, sitting in his book-lined Highgate, London workroom, recalled how it was ultimately Winston Churchill, the man who dominated his life, who was responsible for the young Gilbert’s homecoming after he and his cousins had been evacuated from London to Canada in the summer of 1940. Gilbert was almost 4 at the time and had been sent to Toronto with his aunt. Then an only child, he was very upset to be parted from her and farmed out to foster parents. He recalled, “I used to walk to see my aunt every Shabbat. I thought it was an enormous distance, but when I went back a few years ago…” As Gilbert explained it, by April 1944, Churchill had examined the state of British trans-Atlantic shipping and realized that the RMS Mauretania, which had been converted into a troop ship, was carrying a relatively small number of military personnel. Churchill suggested the ship bring back as many of the evacuated children as possible and, typically, gave orders for there to be extra lifeboats on board.
So, on May 22, 1944, Gilbert landed in Liverpool, clutching among his few belongings a suitcase containing oranges, presented by his Canadian hosts and destined to be given to his parents…His father was a manufacturing jeweler based in London’s Hatton Garden and had spent the war years working with industrial diamonds. Gilbert’s grandfather, Aaron, was one of 17 brothers and sisters of whom, Gilbert estimates, around one-third stayed in Russian Poland and perished in the Holocaust…After a brief time in Oxford, the Gilbert family resumed life in London, and Gilbert was sent as a weekly boarder to Highgate School, where, he said, “I was very keen on geography but I fell into the clutches of the history master.” The master in question, Alan Palmer, himself a noted author and historian, laid down for Gilbert guiding principles of his approach to history. Always, Palmer said, be inquisitive about subjects beyond that which you are immediately studying. His other piece of advice also resonated with Gilbert: “Never pass a wall plaque without reading it.”
It was, perhaps, in this way that Gilbert maintained his astonishing output. At the time of our meeting he had published 75 books (not just about Churchill, but about Israel, Natan Sharansky, the Holocaust, and war-time appeasement) and was to embark on his 76th, “Churchill and the Jews,” as soon as I left the premises. He ended his long career as the author of more than 80 books, many featuring his trademark history maps showing the paths taken by Jews back and forth, criss-crossing Europe and Russia. He also published a series he nicknamed “Gilbert’s Ghetto Guides,” pocket guides with pull-out maps to allow informed walks around ghettos from Vilna to Venice. Gilbert was frequently criticized as a historian because of his tendency to set out the facts and allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. But he demurred. “I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I was reluctant to publish ‘Auschwitz and the Allies’ because I was concerned that my own voice was too strong. I was worried that my book on Israel might be deemed to have too strong a Zionist voice, and in my history of the Holocaust, my voice is in part the voice of the survivors. Although in one way, I would like to feel that my voice is not there… if I present the evidence fully and honestly, why should my voice be any more interesting than the reader’s voice?
School was followed by National Service, and Gilbert used the opportunity to learn Russian, something which stood him in great stead in his later work. He was dismissive, however, of his ability with languages. Despite stints teaching at both Tel Aviv and the Hebrew University, he said his Hebrew was not great. “I struggle with language,” he said. “But one skill I do have is to extract from a mass of documents a clear, strong, narrative.” In his last summer vacation from Magdalene College Oxford, in 1959, Gilbert, who described himself as a “pugnacious Zionist” at university, went with a group of friends to visit Treblinka, Auschwitz and Birkenau, seeing “the doors of the huts, flapping in the wind.” It was an unusual trip to have made at the time, but it undoubtedly sowed the seeds of Gilbert’s life-long, clear-eyed commitment to recording the Holocaust. It eventually led to one of Gilbert’s most popular and accessible books, “The Boys,” the personal stories of 732 concentration camp survivors, men and women, who ultimately made their second homes in Britain…
His workload was prodigious, but Sir Martin Gilbert was that rare bird in the British Jewish community, open, always up for a new challenge, and bursting still in his later years with profound enthusiasm and a commitment to the Jewish and Israeli experience. For many years his was the only voice of a professional historian to look at some of the most painful issues of the Holocaust, which has been followed – only relatively recently – by a new generation of Jewish academics. His will be large shoes to fill.
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'Accountant of Auschwitz' To Go On Trial in Germany in April: Ynet, Feb. 4, 2015—Oskar Groening, a 93-year-old man dubbed the 'accountant of Auschwitz,' will go on trial in April on allegations he was accessory to 300,000 murders as an SS guard at the Nazis' death camp, a German court said on Monday.
A Murder in Argentina: Clifford D. May, Natioanl Post, Jan. 29, 2015 —“When heads of state become gangsters, something has to be done.” Winston Churchill said that. It’s a proposition not many people nowadays endorse. Fewer still take it upon themselves to stand up to the thugs-cum-statesmen.
Balancing Faith and Reason: Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 2, 2014—A high percentage of the best historical novels have been written with the classical world as background.
A Diamond Among Diamonds: Dovid Winiarz OB”M: Sandy Eller, Jewish Press, Jan. 30, 2014—It was January 12th when I got an email asking me to write about the Facebuker Rebbe, an individual named Dovid Winiarz who used Facebook as a kiruv medium.
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