Sunday 29 March 2009

Jewish Anti-Semites

All Jews have anti-Semitic genes in them. We have all experienced moments when we experience a feeling of dislike towards our own people. This usually surfaces as a result of an episode where we witness other Jews behaving badly, and in a manner that is "typically Jewish". Sometimes the behaviour is disrespectful, sometimes it is insensitive and at other times it is just plain embarrassing or rude. There can be no doubting the fact that Jews do have certain behaviour patterns which are typical to us, and which are not particularly endearing to others. Anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists have gone to great lengths explaining the origins of many of these behaviours. The fact that it may be justified by certain events in Jewish history doesn't really help much in today's world. The truth is that we need to move with the times and amend our behaviour accordingly. The frequent instances of poor behaviour by our fellow Jews is a source of great embarrassment to many of us.

There are times when this embarrassment is more about the sensitivity of the person feeling the shame, than the behaviour itself. During and following the harrowing events of the holocaust, many Jews were keen to fit into their new adopted countries as unobtrusively as possible. Mostly, this was done in order not to bring undue attention to themselves. Along with this approach comes an acute sensitivity and associated shame towards people who have chosen not to become as integrated, and still prepared to display Jewish behaviour patterns in public.

All Jews in the Diaspora (as well as most Jews in Israel) have had the opportunity to feel disgusted by the behaviour of Israeli Jews. Whether you have been on the receiving end of aggressive actions or whether somebody has tried to be dishonest with you in business dealings, all of us have felt a level of dislike towards Israelis for this type of behaviour. We even go as far as to label all Israelis for the poor behaviour of some. Even though many people have gone to great lengths to try to differentiate between Israeli culture and Jewish culture, the truth is that it is all the same thing. Most negative behaviours by Israelis are labelled as Jewish behaviour patterns. The same is true when it comes to holding views about the actions of the government of Israel. There are certainly times that we do not agree with the government's actions or statements, which we each have the right to do. These behaviours go further, however, than only representing the people of Israel. They end up representing Jews the world over.

Holding some of these feelings of dislike privately, or discussing them in internal circles, may be one thing. Some may even regard it as a form of therapy. Going out into the wide world and being critical in public is, in my opinion, something quite different. I feel that it this can be extremely damaging to the general good of Jews in Israel and Jews around the world. How much more is this the case when the negative views and criticisms are being voiced by Jews in positions of trust and in senior positions in the local country or community.

There are examples of such high profile Jews who criticise Israel in almost every country with any size of Jewish population. Two examples which have been in the news recently are those of Ronnie Kasrils, until recently South African Minister for Intelligence Services; and British Member of Parliament and a former Labour government minister, Sir Gerald Kaufman. Both politicians are well known for taking a very public stand in their respective countries against the Israeli government with regard to its policy in dealing with the Palestinian problem despite claiming to be proud of their Jewish heritage. Kasrils has published a number of articles in which he is highly critical of Israeli governments and Israeli military actions. Kaufman has called for economic and military sanctions against Israel, and has described Israel as a "pariah".

Whilst I have no qualm against any Jew for holding a view that may not be supportive of the Israeli government and its actions, I do have a problem with Jews who choose to make these negative views known in very public way. Not only does it damage the Israeli government, it damages the standing of Jews in their own countries. Many times, the reason for such public criticism is to try to demonstrate to the locals the extent to which the person is committed to his adopted country. By criticising Israel or Jews in public, his allegiance to his adopted country is demonstrated to be stronger than his allegiance to the Jewish cause. This often helps to strengthen his standing in the senior circles in which he moves in his home country.

An excellent example this occurred during the recent Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Sir Gerald Kaufman took it upon himself to make some distinctly critical and negative comments about Israel's actions to the House of Commons. Whilst it is not clear whether his statements reinforced Sir Gerald's left-wing Labour credentials, they were distinctly unhelpful to Israel and to British Jews in general.

If Israel is to survive in a world that is increasingly hostile towards her, she needs all the help and support that she can get. Clearly, there are countries whose support she enjoys as a result of a relationship of convenience. It seems logical, however, that Israel would enjoy the public support of the Jewish community around the world. After all, it could be argued that their ability to continue to live safely as Jews in their home countries is dependent upon the continued existence of Israel. Is it too much to ask for their support in return?

Sunday 22 March 2009

And I Choose .....................

Having made two trips out of Israel in the space of three weeks, I feel that my awareness of the choices facing Jews around the world has been raised considerably. I wrote in my recent blog "Israel Sweet Home" about my feelings as a touring Jew in various European countries. This time, I would like to focus more on the issue of choosing a place to live.

I frequently make the statement that there is no Garden of Eden in the world. There is no Utopia that has only positive qualities about living there. Inevitably, wherever one chooses to live, the package will be mixed with both good things and bad. This is even more the case when considering things from a Jewish perspective. Ultimately, people will be happier with where they live, if they go through the process of deciding what is important in their lives. Once this decision has been made, they should seek out the place that delivers to them the most important things on their list of priorities. Inevitably, it will be necessary to put up with all the negative things that come with this place in the interests of enjoying the positive aspects.

Although Israel offers an ideal Jewish existence for religious and secular Jews alike, it is far from perfect. When one combines the corruption, the unstable political system, the astronomical tax burden, the aggressive nature of many of the people, language challenges for those new olim and many other negative aspects of the country, it is hardly surprising that many Jews decide that it is not for them. The difficulty that many Israelis have in making ends meet, only confirms the famous joke often told. "How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Arrive with a big fortune." Newly elected member of the Knesset and former Jewish Agency Head, Ze'ev Bielski, was often heard telling people that, if there was another Jewish country, he would recommend people to go there. Because, however, he only has one "product" to offer, he recommends that Jews come to Israel. This seems to be the bottom line. For Jews seeking out the Jewish environment that Israel offers, it is a case of "grin and bear it" for the numerous negative aspects of Israeli society.

It is clear to me that the survival of the Jewish race is is more secure with Israel in existence than without it. It is also clear to me that those Jews who live in Israel are more likely to have Jewish children and grandchildren than those who do not. With all its hardships and challenges, however, Israel does not suit all Jews. It is argued by many that it would not suit all Jews even if it was a much easier place to live in. Unfortunately we will not know any time soon.

For me, there is little doubt as to what is important. It is for this reason that I am happy to raise my children in Israel in spite of everything.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Why I Want my Son to Serve

When planning our aliyah from London nearly 11 years ago, one of the most significant issues that I had to confront with my wife related to our two young sons. When coming to live in the State of Israel, a parent automatically commits his or her children to the defence of Israel by virtue of the military training that each and every child is obliged to undertake. In the case of boys, the service in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) lasts a period of almost three years, and invariably involves the boy taking up a position in a unit which can bring him into harm's way. n Girls are equally required to serve for a period currently almost two years in length.

My wife was particularly concerned about this parental commitment that she was making. I, ever the optimist, expressed hope that the peace process would progress sufficiently in the 12 years that we had until our elder son would be called up, such that serving the Israeli army would not be as much of a threat as it had been in the past. I had reason to feel optimistic at that time. The Oslo process was in full swing and relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians were cordial, and allowed for a great deal of economic and political cooperation. This contributed to some positive views being expressed on each side regarding the prospects for relations between the parties in the future. I sincerely hoped and wanted to believe that, by the time my son would be called upon to serve, the conflict with the Palestinians would be an historical detail.

Now, 11 of those 12 years have passed, and my elder son has begun the process of being recruited to the IDF. It is astonishing that the positive feeling and optimism that was felt 11 years ago has not only evaporated completely, but has been replaced by a feeling of pessimism for the future. During the intervening period, we have experienced two wars and numerous acts of terror that can force even the most optimistic person to realise that prospects for the future do not look good. It could be argued that the prospects for peace in the future look as bleak now as at any time over the past 61 years. And yet, I have reached the conclusion that I want my son to serve in the IDF despite the obvious dangers that this presents. Of course, I would not like for him to be in harm's way - no parent wants this. I still feel, however, that I want him to serve.

In this time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, I hold the view that the holocaust could have been avoided if a Jewish army had existed at the time of the Second World War. The difference between living and dying for 6 million Jews was the lack of a Jewish army. Conversely, the fact that we now have a Jewish army can ensure that a similar horrific event will be avoided as long as this army continues in existence. Believing passionately in this theory as I do, is one thing. Making it happen is something quite different. This has been made easier for our generation by the monumental work by those who established the IDF at the time of the founding of the state, and by those who have maintained and improved it over the years. For me, and others like me, the commitment to continue to support this impressive army is fairly simple - keep it staffed with the required soldiers.

During the period of my 11 years in Israel, the country and its citizens has been subject to many random attacks of terror as well as organised wars on our borders. My fellow Israelis, many of them known to me, have not hesitated in sending their sons to war in the protection of me and my family. Doubts have continued in my mind about my son's safety in serving in the IDF. It was even suggested to me at one time that I may wish to consider sending my son abroad at the time that he would be required to serve, in order to extricate him from this responsibility. With the unselfish acts of my fellow Israelis, how can I shirk my responsibility to return the "favour" that they have shown me? And how can I continue to believe in the concept of a Jewish army preventing a holocaust if I am not prepared to make my contribution to keeping this army a reality? Imagine what sort of a Jewish army we would have if many other Jews tried to shirk their responsibility, and ensured that their sons would not be soldiers in the IDF. It would be a much less effective force, if at all.

So, with a great deal of trepidation but an enormous sense of pride, my son will serve in the IDF. He and his friends feel extremely patriotic in being committed, both to the Jewish State and to the Jews around the world, and look forward to their service. We can all be proud of these young warriors, and can be thankful that we have them to ensure the future of Jewish existence.

There can be no doubt that Jewish continuity will be threatened as soon as these young men and women decide that the defence of the Jewish nation is not sufficiently important to them, and they lose their drive and patriotism to proudly serve in the IDF. The threat to Jewish existence will equally be threatened by parents like me if they decide that their children should not serve. Let us hope that this day never comes.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Credit Crunch Israeli Style

The news seems to be dominated these days by the economic woes of the world. There is no doubt that the credit crunch is having a dramatic effect on the economies of most countries. Whilst Israel is equally suffering a significant economic downturn, there is some consolation that the banking sector in Israel is holding up much better than elsewhere. This is due to improvements that were made to the Israeli banking environment during a previous economic crisis. It is ironic that Israel's banks are now serving as something of a role model to fix the troubled banks around the globe.

Israel has experienced many years of substantial economic growth. When comparing the Israeli economy at the time of independence in 1948 to the current Israeli economy, there is hardly any resemblance. The way in which the country has succeeded in supporting the dual economic challenges of ongoing war and conflict and large numbers of immigrants, can be nothing short of a miracle. The fact that the economy can be regarded along with the economies of other countries that are much longer established and with lesser economic challenges, is a credit to the Israeli will to succeed and thanks to a good deal of assistance from Jews in the diaspora in the earlier years.

Despite this fact, Israel's economy remains precariously balanced. Although the successes are numerous and economic growth impressive by any measure, one cannot divorce the political and social environment in which Israel operates from its economy. This political environment creates many economic challenges and dilemmas which are proving difficult, if not impossible, to resolve.

The employment of Israeli Arabs is a large issue in Israeli society. With a population of approximately 5.8 million Jews and about 1.5 million Israeli Arabs, there are many considerations surrounding the employment of Arab workers in Jewish businesses. There are those who feel that they would prefer to employ Jews over Arabs in the interests of providing opportunities to Jews in the first place. This is a larger issue at the current time when many Jews who were employed in the hi-tech sector have been laid off due to the global economic downturn. Arabs, however, are generally cheaper to employ. Their costs of living are lower due to the fact that they live in areas where property is cheaper, and often house 3 or 4 families under one roof. This allows them to be prepared to accept lower remuneration. In addition to the natural inclination of Israeli employers to want to pay as little as they can get away with, many Israeli products are being sold in highly competitive markets abroad. Any price advantage that can be gained via lower production costs is welcome, and employing Arabs frequently provides this. In addition, Arabs are often prepared to accept the menial jobs that Jews are not prepared to undertake.

The real dilemma of employing Arabs arises with regard to self-employed Arabs. The Arabs have an entrepreneurial spirit which is similar to the one found in many Jews. As such, there are many self-employed Arab Israelis showing this spirit. They are particularly found in the construction industry as builders, electricians, tilers, plumbers and the like. As mentioned above, they are often able to work for lower prices than their Israeli counterparts. They are often good at their trade, and know how to work the system in the same way as their Israeli counterparts which often means that they do not pay taxes on their income. It is difficult for Jewish Israelis to sacrifice the advantage of paying less (and still getting a good job done) in the interests of hiring a Jewish equivalent for the job. In recent times, it has been proven that Arab Israelis have assisted their Palestinian brethren in the planning and execution of terror attacks on Jews. This has convinced some Jewish Israelis to decide to forego the services of the Arabs in protest at this fact.

The dilemma is even more pronounced when considering the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They number approximately 3.5 million in all, and have precious little employment opportunities of their own. To earn a living, they rely upon employment by Israel and international aid. Employment by Israel depends a great deal upon the political situation on any given day, and whether the checkpoints are open to allow them to cross into Israel and back to their homes at the end of the day. With regard to these people, the best course of action for Israeli Jews is not always obvious. Is it better to employ them at lower costs, and provide money to a cause unknown that may well be against the security interests of Israel, or is it better to allow an economic disaster zone to fester on our own doorstep? The saying, "The devil will find work for idle hands" comes to mind, and supports those that feel that it is better to keep the Palestinians in employment.

The Israeli economy has many inherent problems to solve. Much of the country's wealth is held in the hands of a very few, and shows no sign of better distribution anytime soon. Approximately 50% of the nation's children live under the breadline. The average citizen spends more than he can afford, with much of the country living on bank overdraft. There is still too much of a propensity to spend money on designer clothes, fancy cars, overseas trips and electronic gadgets when many are struggling to put food on the table. The tax burden for the average citizen is far too high due to the high level of defence spending, and is not helped by government corruption and inefficiency.

Despite the many notable economic achievements of the State of Israel in 60 short years, the economic state of most of its citizens is far from ideal. And this was the situation before the recent economic downturn. It is hard to see how the average Israeli can weather the current economic storm. And yet, people somehow seem to get by on a daily basis. From where things are at the moment, it is difficult to see how the twin problems of the Israeli economy and the Palestinian problem can be resolved. Maybe we will witness another miracle in a land that requires miracles to survive.