Friday 27 May 2011

For such a time as this

Last Tuesday (24 May), Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered an electrifying speech to the US Congress. According to M J Rosenthal, the speech was “a series of insults to Palestinians and their national aspirations”.

In the opinion of Rosenthal, “Netanyahu's appearance itself was an insult”.

Furthermore, says Rosenthal, “The prime minister unambiguously stated that he had no intention of making peace with the Palestinians.”

You can read Rosenthal’s views here and see Netanyahu’s speech here and read the text here. Judge for yourself if Rosenberg is right.

Here’s what I think.

In years to come, Binyamin Netanyahu’s address to the US Congress on 24 May may come to be regarded as one of history’s greatest speeches, on a par with Winston Churchill’s “We will fight them on the beaches” oration and Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech.

When President Barack Obama declared a week before the Prime Minister’s speech, that “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps”, he must have known that Netanyahu could never accept such a proposal. A Palestinian state within “pre-1967 borders” would leave Israel a mere nine miles wide at its narrowest point, making the Jewish state completely indefensible.

When the Netanyahu boarded the plane for America two days after Obama’s comment, he did so knowing the future of his country was in his hands. He needed to convince Congress to support Israel. And it seems he did, receiving standing ovation after standing ovation.

“Israel has no better friend than America”, declared the Prime Minister. “And America has no better friend than Israel. We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism.”

“In an unstable Middle East”, said Netanyahu, “Israel is the one anchor of stability. In a region of shifting alliances, Israel is America’s unwavering ally. Israel has always been pro-American. Israel will always be pro-American.”

Israel, he pointed out, has “a free press, independent courts, an open economy, rambunctious parliamentary debates. You think you guys are tough on one another in Congress? Come spend a day in the Knesset!”

Referring to the political turmoil in the Middle East, Netanyahu reminded Congress that “Courageous Arab protesters, are now struggling to secure these very same [democratic] rights for their peoples, for their societies … Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights … Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one-percent are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel!”

The speech might well be remembered as the charismatic leader’s finest hour. As more and more nations line up to support the creation of a Palestinian state governed by leaders who refuse to recognise Israel’s right to exist, Netanyahu – whose name means, “The Lord has given” – may indeed prove to be God’s gift to the nation.

Blowin’ in the Mind: Bob Dylan at 70

Yes, I know this is late but I’ve had a busy week. Anyone who doesn’t know that Bob Dylan was 70 last Tuesday must be living on Desolation Row or something.

The BBC ran a number of programmes on the man who arguably changed an entire generation. The Beatles – in particular John Lennon – were all influenced by Dylan. Without him I seriously doubt that Revolver or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would have ever come into existence. Dylan himself drew inspiration from those who had gone before. Listen to Dylan’s early albums and you can’t miss the echoes of The Carter Family, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Chuck Berry. Poets, novelists, artists and mystics are there too; T.S.Eliot, Rimbaud, Picasso, Salvador Dali and William Blake.

It was in the summer of 1965 that I first heard Bob Dylan. I had heard his name but never heard him until Subterranean Homesick Blues came on the radio while I was at a friend’s house: “Johnny’s in the basement mixin’ up the medicine/I’m on the pavement thinkin’ about the government...” Then came Like a Rolling Stone, a song so long you wondered how it fit on a 45rpm single (if you can remember those things). Positively Fourth Street went boldly where no pop song had gone before; it was a venomous, vitriolic tirade against an unnamed false friend with which millions of teenagers could readily identify.

Until Dylan, almost all pop songs were two and a half minutes long and about how the singer was going to love the girl of his/her fancy forever. Dylan, as is well known, changed all that.

Dylan, it is said, kept an open Bible on a lectern in his study/workroom. When Paul Stookey of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary was going through severe personal problems and called on Dylan for advice, Dylan’s counsel was, apparently, “Read the Bible, man.”

It is interesting to see how the Bible, including the New Testament, has always had an attraction for the Jewish boy from Hibbing , Minnesota (as it has for Jewish artists such as Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and Neil Diamond). Dylan’s eponymous first album featured Gospel Plough and In my time of Dyin’, and biblical imagery has been a constant feature of all his best songs from Blowin’ in the Wind to Thunder on the Mountain.

I can never make up my mind if Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands is a Picasso portrait of his first wife Sarah, or if it is Dylan’s “Song of Songs”. Maybe it’s both.

The early eighties was Dylan’s “born again” period and Christians still ask me (as though I have inside knowledge) if Dylan still is, or ever was, a true believer. I don’t know.

All I do know is that some remarkable and moving songs come from that period. Every Grain of Sand touches me deep inside and never fails to moisten my eyes. I find it hard to understand how someone devoid of true faith could have composed songs like Serve Somebody, which is like a J C Ryle sermon set to music.

It is interesting to see that Jesus and Christian imagery still feature in his music. In his 1984 post born-again, retrospective, under-appreciated album Real Live, Dylan performs Masters of War in which he omits the verse in which he assures the Masters: “There's one thing I know/Though I'm younger than you/That even Jesus would never/Forgive what you do.”

Towards the end of the eighties, I saw a recording of an Australian concert in which he informed the audience that the song In the Garden was about his hero: “When they came for Him in the garden, did they know/ …He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord? When He rose from the dead, did they believe?/He said, ‘All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.’/Did they know right then and there what that power was worth?”

Those are remarkable words for an “unbeliever” to sing.

About the same time, I saw Dylan perform I Shall be Released with modified lyrics. Instead of “I see my light come shining from the west unto the east”, he sang, “I don’t need a doctor or a priest.”

Was it a statement that his relationship with God was in good shape or was it a signal that Dylan had turned his back on Christianity? Who knows? Dylan has always been as enigmatic as his lyrics and will probably remain so.

I pray that as "his Bobness" has reached the significant biblical “threescore years and ten”, in his mind he will recall that almost half a lifetime ago he sang that he was going to change his way of thinking and get himself a “different set of rules”.

Thursday 19 May 2011

The Consolations of Conspiracy Theories

When you arrive at the core of any conspiracy theory, you can be as certain as make no difference that the Jews are behind it, whether it be the two World wars or 9/11.

What explains the extraordinary appeal of conspiracy theories? According to an article in the Budapest Times by Péter Krekó, they provide psychologically comforting explanations for unexpected and shocking events that are otherwise difficult to explain.

Conspiracy theories allow us to believe that the world is essentially just. If people living in Arab countries take the view that the governments of Israel and the United States carried out the September 11 attacks, then they can avoid facing up to the problem of Islamic fundamentalism burdening their own communities.

Conspiracy theories help to explain adverse social events, reconstruct the past and predict future events, call attention to threats to our own group, spur the members of our own group to collective defence, and provide moral justification for cruelty and violence towards external groups.

The villains in conspiracy theories are the Jews. Conspiracy theories about them sprang up in the Middle Ages. They were blamed, for example, for the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1009 and the Rome earthquake of 1020. Jews were also held responsible for the famine that struck Europe in the 14th century, leading to repeated pogroms on French soil. Some people even ascribed the Black Death that claimed the lives of almost a third of the population of Europe to a Jewish conspiracy designed to wipe out Christian communities despite the fact that the Jews were also among its victims.

Conspiracy theories are also indispensable ideological and political props for radical groups, as demonstrated by the longevity and persistence of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hadassa Ben Itto is the author of The Lie That Wouldn’t Die, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. She served for 31 years as a judge at all levels of the Israeli courts, including as an acting justice of the Supreme Court. She has also served as an official representative of Israel in various international forums, including UNESCO and the UN General Assembly, and is currently the honorary president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

In a recent Jerusalem Post article, she points out that in the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, there were placards of Hosni Mubarak with a Star of David on his face. Lara Logan, an American journalist, was sexually molested in the middle of the square and was called a Jew, although she is not Jewish. She does not have to be Jewish. The word “Jew” has become an accepted insult in the public square. A well known Egyptian preacher stood up and talked not about freedom but about the Jews, about what is going to happen to the Jews when the masses take over. So Israelis are rightfully worried.

Why is The Protocols – a proven lie and forgery – important today? Because it is being published around the world, with new editions in Arabic almost every year, and in Persian and Turkish. These publications are financed by government money and distributed not only in Arabic-speaking countries, but also to Muslim minorities around the world.

New editions are necessary because the introductions are updated every year. The introductions say if you do not believe that the Jews are really planning to take over the world, look at what is happening in your country and region. Everything that is happening is rooted in The Protocols, an implementation of the “Jewish conspiracy.” If there is a financial crisis, an AIDS or a flu epidemic, a terrorist attack, an upheaval or a catastrophe, one can always point to a chapter or page in The Protocols because it is such a devious document that everything is there. There is a whole detailed plan of how to take over the world.

The Protocols is not only a forgery, it is plagiarism. It was actually written in France in the last decade of the 19th century. During the preparation for the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik cells could not operate openly in Russia, so they were active elsewhere in Europe, including France. A special envoy of the Russian Secret Police was sent to France to uncover the Bolshevik cells. The Russian Secret Service and the Black Hundreds, an ultra-nationalist movement in Russia whose slogan was “Beat the Jews and Save Russia,” were trying to convince the czar that the Jews were behind the Bolshevik Revolution. The czar was already convinced, but they needed proof.

The Protocols is not just a libel, it is also a political document describing a Jewish criminal conspiracy to dominate the world, and almost the first leader outside Russia who picked it up was Adolf Hitler. As a strategic step, the Nazis decided to use The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a central part of their ideology, as we know from correspondence between Hitler and Goebbels. A German historian describes in his book how Hitler used The Protocols on the way to the Final Solution, but he had already mentioned it in Mein Kampf. The Nazis were masters of the “Big Lie” and their tactics have been adopted by the Muslim world. The theory is that the bigger the lie, the better success of brainwashing the public.

The Protocols is a central issue in Arab and Muslim propaganda, even in what we call moderate countries, including countries that made peace with Israel. The Protocols is everywhere, at every Arabic book fair, more in Egypt, less in Jordan. It is in public discourse, in newspapers, even in TV soap operas. It describes world history from beginning to end, including the French Revolution, as part of the Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. Until the end of World War II, the problem was the Jews, but after the establishment of the State of Israel, the target has become Israel.

There may be no Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world, but there is certainly an anti-Jewish conspiracy that seeks to demonise the Jewish people and delegitimise the state of Israel.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Fondly remembering Hebron

Last weekend, Arabs demonstrated against the 1948 “disaster” inflicted on them by the creation of the state of Israel. Arab press watchdog the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has released a video that was broadcast on Hamas-Gaza TV, which places the Arab claims in perspective.

In the video, a 92-year-old Arab woman, originally from Hebron, glowingly recalls on Hamas-Gaza TV how in 1929 – almost 20 years before the 1948 “Nakba” – without provocation the Arabs of Hebron, including her father, massacred the peaceful Jewish neighbours they had lived beside for years. In the film, she makes it clear that she wants a repeat of the Hebron massacre.

On 24 August 1929, sixty seven Jews were massacred in an orgy of sadistic violence. Jewish children were murdered in front of their parents, limbs were severed, women were brutally raped and Jews were burned alive.

The British High Commissioner, Sir John Chancellor, issued a statement following the massacre, in which he stated:

“I have learned with horror of the atrocious acts committed by bodies of ruthless and bloodthirsty evil-doers, of savage murders perpetrated upon defenceless members of the Jewish population regardless of age or sex, accompanied as at Hebron, by acts of unspeakable savagery, of the burning of farms and houses in town and country and of the looting and destruction of property.

“These crimes have brought upon their authors the execration of all civilized peoples throughout the world.”

Lest it be considered that only elderly Arab ladies still desire Jewish blood, in an interview on Hamas Al Aqsa TV, Yunis al Astal, a member of the Palestinian Authority parliament, spelled out his organisation's vision for the genocidal annihilation of the Jewish people.

Al Astal described the ingathering of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel in terms of a divine plan that would give the Arabs “the honour” of annihilating “the evil of this gang.”

In a few years, he predicted, the Zionists will understand that they were brought here for the purpose of being slaughtered in “a great massacre.”

In terms reminiscent of Adolph Hitler’s anti-Jewish rants in the 1930s, al Astal said the Jews were more dangerous than all of the world's lethal birds of prey, dangerous reptiles and lethal bacteria put together.

Meanwhile, an official of the “moderate” Hamas party, said that the political programmes of both Fatah and Hamas were identical. This statement should cause concern in that the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel and Yunis al Astal wants to exterminate the Jews.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

The Full-Blown Return of Anti-Semitism in Europe

Guy Millière has written a revealing and chilling article. Read the full article here.After World War II, anti-Semitism seemed to disappear in Europe. It is back, to a very disquieting degree.

Although it is not exactly the same anti-Semitism that in the 1930s, it is not fully different.

The new, current anti-Semitism now adds on to the old kind, the demonization of the State of Israel. The Islamic view of Israel is now the dominant view of Israel in Europe. The idea that Israel is a “colonial power” that has “robbed” people of their land, and is an “artificial State”, even though the Jews have been on that land for three thousand years – and even though many states in the area, such as Jordan and Libya, and Iraq are even more illegitimate, their borders having been drawn on paper by the British in the 1920s – is a commonplace among journalists.

Hatred towards Israel is now the most widely shared sentiment among Europeans, whatever their place on the political spectrum. It is now through hatred of Israel, that hatred of Jews as annoying “troublemakers” can again express itself.

In the 1930s, Jews were accused of not being full members of the country where they lived. Today, the same criticism rises in a slightly different form: Jews are accused of the existence of a Jewish state, and are suspected of being too tied to that state to be full members of the country where they live.

More deeply, the Jews of Europe might feel that if they can paint the Jews as evil, then perhaps what their parents and grandparents did to them during World War II was not really so bad after all; you could even say they deserved what they got. As some Scandinavians put it, The Jews killed Christ; at least the Muslims did not do that.
The anti-Semitism of the 1930s led to the Holocaust, which led the Jews to flee to Israel, the only country that would take them in and not let shiploads of fleeing Jews sink at sea. Now, European anti-Semitism accuses the Jews of Israel's existence and of reminding them of the Holocaust by remembering it themselves.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Europeans seem quite ready for another Holocaust: one that would be the annihilation of Israel.

If sacrificing Israel allowed non-Muslim Europeans to see Muslim anger disappear, they would be willing to make the sacrifice immediately. If, in order to accept the sacrifice with a clear conscience, non-Muslim Europeans have to caricature Israel ignobly, they will – and do. Anti-Israel cartoons fill European newspapers from London to Spain, and even receive awards. The Israeli army is often compared in European media to the Nazi army. The comparison is fully playing its role: if the Jews are Nazis today, it means that the Europeans did the world a favour in killing six million of them, and that the Europeans are not really guilty.

If Israel can be portrayed as a Nazi state, its destruction is acceptable, maybe even legitimate, maybe even desirable. The fact that Mein Kampf is a bestseller in the Palestinian territories and in most countries of the Muslim world is totally left out, just like the fact that many Jews living in Israel are survivors of the Holocaust committed in Europe sixty five years ago.

A survey conducted last year for the Friederich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank linked to Germany's Social Democratic Party, was eloquent. To the question: “Do you think that Jews abuse their status as victims of Nazism?” positive responses reached proportions hardly imaginable: 72.2% in Poland, 48% in Germany, 40.2% in Italy, 32.3% in France. Another question, “Do you understand why people do not like Jews?” generated results that must be faced. Number of positive responses: 55.2% in Poland, 48.9% in Germany, 40.2% in Italy. The question was not asked in France. In several polls conducted in Europe over the last decade, Israel was identified as the most dangerous country for world peace, tied with Iran.

The question: “Are you anti-Semitic?” was not asked anywhere. I have no doubt that, if asked the question, those who understand that “People do not like Jews”, and who probably do not like them either, would have said that they were not anti-Semitic.
The question, “Do you think that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians?” was asked. Positive responses : 63% in Poland, 47.7% in Germany.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called the poll “very disturbing. The governments of Europe, and the European Union," he said, "would do well to wake up to this problem before it is too late.”

Monday 16 May 2011

A minor catastrophe day

At least one person was killed and dozens were wounded as IDF soldiers tried to prevent nearly a thousand Syrian Arabs invading the Golan Heights during Nakba Day protests. Syrian troops at the border did not prevent the infiltration.

Analysts had predicted that Syria might allow the crossings to draw the attention of its citizens attention and participation away from the ongoing rebellion in the country and the regime’s harsh crackdown on civilian protestors.

At the same time of the Nakba protest, Syrian soldiers a shot and killed a women and wounded five others, including a Lebanese soldier, during a protest against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hundreds of Syrian Arabs have crossed into Lebanon to flee Assad’s security forces who have already killed nearly 800 demonstrators.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas marked “Nakba Day” by reiterating his hard-line positions on future control of Jerusalem.

Abbas, who is praised as a “moderate” and Israel’s best hope for peace, played to the West’s view of him on Saturday by declaring he believes in the two-state solution. However, he told a group of Palestinian dignitaries in Ramallah on Saturday that he would never accept a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital.

Abbas demands the “right” of millions of “Palestinian refugees” to take up residence both in a future Palestinian state and within the borders of sovereign. “The Palestinian leadership will never give up the right of return”, he said.

Flooding Israel with millions of Arabs claiming refugee status was a goal his predecessor and mentor, Yasser Arafat, readily admitted. If successful, such a strategy would demographically destroy the Jewish state.

So long as Abbas clings to these demands, no Israeli government will ever sign a final status peace agreement with him.

Marking Nakba Day in Tel Aviv, an Arab truck driver went on a rampage through the streets of Tel Aviv, killing one person and injuring at least five more.

The 22-year-old driver reportedly smashed into parked and moving vehicles in the heart of Tel Aviv for more than a mile before coming to a halt when he rammed a bus (pictured).

A 40-year-old man who was sitting in one of the parked cars that was hit died of his injuries.

Witnesses said that after hitting the bus at the end of his rampage, the driver leapt from his truck and began shouting and hurling objects at people nearby. In the process, he injured a young Jewish girl.

Following his arrest, the driver told police that the incident was a simple traffic accident caused by a blown tyre.

Some commentators say the violence was not as great as expected.

Doesn't the fact that we can breath a sigh of relief that a day of violence, on which less people are killed and injured than we expected, tell us something about the Palestinian people?

Friday 13 May 2011

Am Yisrael Chai!

This Sunday, 14 May, demonstrations will be staged across the Palestinian Authority to mark the “Nakba” (the “catastrophe”), the Arabic term used to describe the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Jews in Israel are planning a Zionist response to the planned activities. Had the state of Israel been established earlier than it was, the real “catastrophe” – six million Jews murdered in the Death Camps of Europe, who had nowhere to escape to – would have been avoided.

Activists from the Samaria Residents’ Council plan to stand at major intersections throughout Israel and hand out Israeli flags to drivers, stating:

“This Sunday, we will all raise with pride the flag of Israel.

“‘Nakba Day’ is translated into Hebrew as Yom Hashoah [Holocaust Remembrance Day].

This is how the ‘Palestinian’ Authority leadership has chosen to refer to the establishment of Israel. Indeed, it is not surprising, since at the head of that terror authority is Holocaust denier Abu-Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].

“This year the Authority is trying to intensify the events of that day, as a propaganda step on the way to their one-side declaration of a state in September.

“The hysteria which the PA and its PR people from the far left are trying to inflict on the citizens of Israel is nothing but a balloon filled with hot air.

“They too know very well that according to international law, only whoever is controlling an area can establish a state, and to our delight Israel is the one controlling it. Those PR people who are trying to frighten the public in Israel remember well that the UN already voted in 1988 in favour of the establishment of a ‘Palestinian’ state (by a majority of 104 against 2) and Arafat even officially declared it. All this had no meaning since Israel controls most of Judea and Samaria, the cradle of the Jewish people, and protects the whole country from there [ the high ground of Judea and Samaria overlooks the entire coast of Israel, its most populated urban area which, in other hands, would make that part of Israel vulnerable to missile attacks].

“On Sunday, we will all raise the Israeli flag everywhere: on cars, on our homes and on our Facebook accounts.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in cities across the country will raise the flag along with us.

“We will raise the flag proudly, and say to the world: ‘Am Yisrael Chai’[the people of Israel live]!”

Of course, the establishment of the Jewish state was a catastrophe for Arabs living in the land. But the Jews were not the cause of the Nakba; it was the Arab leaders who refused to recognise the Jewish homeland and launched an attack on Israel the day it was founded. If the Arab nations had been prepared to concede land, the catastrophe of loss of life on both sides of the conflict could have been avoided.

Monday 9 May 2011

Happy Birthday to a Great Country

Sixty-three years ago today, on 5 Iyar in the Jewish calendar (14 May 1948), the state of Israel was reborn. Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day celebrates the day in 1948 when Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion publicly read the country’s Declaration of Independence.

If the 5 Iyar falls on a Friday or Saturday, the celebrations are moved to the preceding Thursday. If the date falls on a Monday (like it does this year), the festival is postponed to Tuesday. Today, Monday 9 May, is 5 Iyar and so Yom Ha’atzmaut will begin at sunset tonight, when 6 Iyar begins.

Israel has much to be proud of. It is the hundredth smallest country in the world, with less than one thousandth of the world’s population, yet what that small country has achieved in 63 is unprecedented. Here are a few facts about Israel (for an even longer list, click here).

Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

Israel has more scientists and engineers per capita than any other country and Israeli scientists publish more scientific papers than any other nation. Israelis hold more patents per person than citizens of any other nation. Israel is one out of eight countries capable of launching its own satellites into space.

An Israeli company has developed a revolutionary new drug that could solve the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder that has been wiping out bee communities around the world.

The first cell phone in the world was developed in Haifa, Israel and Israel holds the most High-Tech industries per population. It was there that the first camera chips were used in cell phones, and Israeli companies invented SMS texting and voice mail systems.

The “Xaver 400” and “800” devices show images below rubble and are used after earthquakes to search for survivors, and in hostage situations where the police need to see inside buildings.

“Earthquake Alert”, a home device to give early warning of earthquakes, was developed in Israel, as was “Safety Centre”, a device to assess driving habits and improve them, which has helped cut traffic accidents.

Most of the components of the Windows operating system were developed in Israel. The first PC anti-virus programme was invented in Israel and an Israeli company invented the network security technology behind PC firewalls.

The algorithm code used for sending e-mails was devised by an Israeli who worked at the Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheba, and USB flash drives were developed by MSystems.

The world’s first blood bank was built at Beilinson hospital, ten years before Israel was reborn.

Israelis invented a camera that patients swallow to help doctors diagnose digestive tract diseases and save lives.

Babysense, a system that protects babies from the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was invented in Israel.

Israel has been responsible for huge breakthroughs in treatment of AIDS.
Israeli scientists have created new ways to fight cancer, they have increased the efficiency of anti[cancer medicines and have developed the first radiation-free method to discover breast cancer.

Researchers at Ben Gurion University are working on a new delivery system for drugs used in cancer and Parkinson’s disease. The drugs are delivered directly to the affected part of the body and, in so doing, eliminates unwanted side effects.

Environmental protection
More than 85% of solid waste in Israel is treated in an environmental sound manner.
Drip irrigation system- invented by an Israeli almost 40 years ago. A major part of resolving the water crisis. Used around the world.

Israel has the record for most solar-powered water heaters per capita- 95% of homes have this technology and solar powered street and garden lamps are very common in Israel. The solar plate recharges throughout the day and at night it illuminates cities and parks.

An Israeli company was the first to develop and install a large scale solar power plant in the Mojave Desert in order to supply enough clean electricity to power 400,000 homes in central and northern California.

Disaster Aid
Israeli teams have often been among the first on the scene after natural disasters across the world. Israel’s significant contribution to relief efforts include earthquakes in Turkey (2000) and El Salvador (2001), and floods in Venezuela (1999) and in Mozambique (2000).

Within 48 hours of the 2004 tsunami off the Indonesian coast in the Indian Ocean, Israel airlifted massive amounts of emergency supplies, together with a team of fifty medical and rescue personnel. The supplies included tens of thousands of bottles of drinking water, 12 tons of food, 17 tons of baby food, nine tons of medicines, blankets, mattresses, beds and electricity generators.

Following the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) were the first to set up a field hospital, from which were treated 1,111 victims, including dozens of children. Israeli doctors performed 317 surgeries and delivered 16 babies in the hospital’s maternity ward; the mother of one of the newborns called her son Israel. Four Haitians were rescued with the assistance of the IDF search-and-rescue team. The 236-member IDF disaster relief delegation left 30 tons (27,216 kg) of medical equipment before departing Haiti.

Altogether now… Three cheers for Israel!

Saturday 7 May 2011

Did Jesus reinterpret the Old Testament?

A colleague just showed me an article he has written addressing the issue of anti-Zionism in the Christian Church and the claim that the Old Testament promises of land made by God to to the Jewish people were “reinterpreted” by Jesus and the Apostles. In the article, he asks where that leaves 2 Timothy 3:16, which says “All Scripture [by which Paul means the Old Testament scriptures] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

That set me thinking.

What I’m expressing here are my embryonic thoughts and I need to think more deeply about them but, for what they are worth, here are my first observations.

What do Colin Chapman, Stephen Sizer and other anti-Zionists mean when they tell us that Jesus and the Apostles “reinterpreted” the land promises found in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures? The implications of such a claim are very serious.

If we can understand the Old Testament only through the lens of Jesus and the Apostles, as Chapman and Sizer claim, in what way can the Hebrew Scriptures be said to be “profitable … for teaching” in their own right? Why bother to read them at all? Why not just read the New Testament?

The claim that Jesus and the apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament Scriptures implies the promises of a land for Abraham’s physical descendant had one meaning before Christ (i.e. a literal meaning) but now they mean the opposite (i.e. they have a spiritual meaning). Either the promises always had a spiritual meaning (which no one, not even Moses understood) or they continue to mean what they always meant.

If the promise of land to Israel no longer means a promise of land, the implication is that we can no longer take the Old Testament at its face value.

If, however, we still read those “God-breathed” Scriptures at face value, we cannot do so with “profit” because although the promise of “land” may have meant what it said on the tin to the original readers, it no longer has the same meaning because Jesus and the apostles supposedly “reinterpreted” the promise.

The anti-Zionist claim also presents us with another problem. If the reinterpretation of the land promises by Jesus and the apostles is true, the new interpretation must have always been the way to understand them. So we are faced with a problem of God promising material blessing to Israel when, in fact, he is really talking about spiritual promises to “the Church”.

We cannot therefore use the term “reinterpretation” without doing damage to the New Testament doctrine of Scripture.

We can talk about Jesus and the apostles exposing “deeper meanings” to the land promises. We can say the New Testament uncovers “fresh layers” or draws out previously unknown “implications” to Old Testament texts but we cannot talk about reinterpretation.

The New Testament itself recognises that the meaning of some Scriptures was previously unknown or misunderstood until the coming of Christ but that is not the same as saying Christ “reinterpreted” the meanings.

And nowhere does Jesus imply the land promises did not really mean the promise of land.

The safest and most common sense approach to the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants of land is to accept that although there may be deeper layers to the promises and greater implications behind the texts, the basic face-value meaning of the “land” passages remains inviolate.

Thursday 5 May 2011

A Scandinavian Messiah

I grew up reading Marvel comics and still retain an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the brand’s output from 1960 to 1970. I’ve been fascinated by the spate of Marvel superhero films that have hit the big screens over the last ten years or so. Some (notably the three Spiderman films) remain faithful to the original comics in both letter and spirit whereas others are true largely to the spirit of the originals.

Almost fifty years ago, three secular American Jews (Stan Lee, his brother Larry Lieber and artist Jack Kirby) recreated Thor, the Norse god of thunder, for a comic book. Lee’s writing, with its cod King James Bible/Shakespearian dialogue, and the imaginative artwork of the late, great Jack Kirby were a winning combination.

Mild mannered, lame and weedy Dr Donald Blake could, when circumstances demanded, turn into the thunder god by striking his walking cane on the ground. When he wasn’t doing battle with villains like “The Cobra” and “Crusher Creel” (an escaped convict who could absorb the attributes of whatever he touched) Thor was fighting his evil half-brother Loki.

Thor has now come to the big screen in an adaptation directed by Kenneth Branagh (no less) which retains only the basic concept of the original comic book.

In the film, Thor is stripped of his supernatural powers and banished to earth from Asgard for rebelling against his father Odin. Here, among mortals, the thunder god quickly learns humility and gains wisdom, making him worthy to once again wield his mighty hammer Mjölnir and save himself, his faithful friends and (of course) the world from the evil schemes of Loki.

What I’ve also noticed about the superhero blockbusters (both Marvel and DC) is the shameless borrowing of Christian concepts: Superman’s death outside his Fortress of Solitude, his death, resurrection, ascension to heaven and second coming in Superman Returns; and Spiderman’s “conversion and baptism” in Spiderman 3.

In Thor, the parallels with the Messiah come thick and fast.

Just as Jesus is the Son of God, Thor is the son of the “All-Father” king of the gods, Odin.

Jesus was sent to earth by his Father (John 3:16), albeit not for rebellion, where he learns obedience (Hebrews 5:8).

Jesus, in an act of self-humiliation, laid aside his glory as the Son of God only to be exalted by God after he accomplished his Father’s mission (Philippians 2:5ff). In the movie, Thor is humbled by Odin but is granted his powers and his hammer after he has proved himself worthy of them.

While he was on earth, only a few recognised Jesus for who he was, and though Thor speaks with the dignity of the son of Odin, no one recognises him as such until he saves a small town from a devilish (I choose the word deliberately), fire-breathing machine.

In battling his demonic adversary, Thor dies only to be revealed as the son of Odin with power by his resurrection, reflecting what is said of Jesus in Romans 1:4.

Having conquered his enemy and saved the world, Thor returns to Asgard, promising Jane Foster (the love interest, played by Natalie Portman) that he will return for her. At the end of the film, Jane is still waiting but believes “with perfect faith” that the Norse messiah will come and, though he tarry, she will wait for him.

Are all these parallels intentional or am I just reading Jesus into the movie? At least some of the parallels were intended for one good reason: Thor’s hammer Mjölnir bears the symbol of the Christian Trinity! And when Thor is banished to earth to become a mortal, the symbol fades, only to return following Thor’s “resurrection” which reveals him to be the son of Odin.

It is the “gospel” spin that makes Thor such a satisfying film, as it does with The Matrix, Superman Returns and Spiderman 3. The CGI special effects are stupendous but without a strong storyline the film would fail to satisfy. Which is why, increasingly, screenwriters seem to be borrowing from the plot of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Bin Laden: The Israel Connection

I’m no conspiracy theorist but I can’t help thinking there’s something fishy about the United States claiming to have killed Osama bin Laden and then dumping the body in the sea while claiming they have acted in accordance with Islamic law.

Muslim clerics said Monday that Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea was a violation of Islamic tradition.Bin Laden’s "burial" at sea “runs contrary to the principles of Islamic laws, religious values and humanitarian customs”, said Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning.

A number of senior Islamic scholars interpreted it as a humiliating disregard for the standard Muslim practice of placing the body in a grave with the head pointed toward the holy city of Mecca.

Meanwhile, Hamas chief Ismail Haniya hailed bin Laden as “a holy warrior”.
Despite Hamas’ support of bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and the continued and repeated terrorist attacks against Israel, the Obama Administration continues to regard them as a partner for peace in the Middle East. The agreement of Hamas last week to create a unity government for Palestine with the Fatah party means the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is composed of people who deny Israel’s right to exist and refuse to renounce violence against Israel. It is these people to whom the UN and the US want to hand over the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Israel Today reports that Israel has congratulated America on finally catching up to and eliminating bin Laden, and noted that the targeted killing was very reminiscent of Israeli counter-terror operations for which Israel is so often criticised.
Israeli lawmaker Shaul Mofaz, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, suggested that in future the US refrain from criticism when Israel takes such action in the future.

Mofaz noted that the strategy of assassinating terrorist leaders had been first adopted by Israel following the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in which nine Israeli athletes were abducted and executed by Palestinian terrorists.

Since then, Israel has repeatedly targeted and eliminated the heads of various Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas in Gaza. Each time, Israel has been harshly criticized by the international community, even its allies in Washington.
Israeli media outlets said that the way Obama chose to go after bin Laden validates Israel’s policy of targeted killings.

While bin Laden was America’s primary target in its war on terror, there was an Israel connection.

Bin Laden and his top deputies have made repeated references to the Palestinian Arabs and pledged their support to the goal of defeating Israel, along with America. Various terrorist cells in Israel and especially in the Gaza Strip claim to be working under the banner of Al Qaeda.

A detainee report from the American prison in Guantanamo Bay revealed that a senior Al Qaeda terrorists held there had raised funds for terrorist attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets.

There are also concerns that terrorist organizations will try to retaliate for bin Laden’s death by attacking American targets in Israel. Israeli security forces have accordingly gone on high alert.

Death in Nablus

I have to confess that at times I am almost swayed by anti-Israel rhetoric and am tempted to think that the Israelis are hard on the Palestinians. And then I come to my senses and regain my sense of proportion. Let me explain.

How do you feel when you read this report?

Nablus, 3 AM: At over 90 miles per hour a convoy of six cars races through the dark streets of this former stronghold of terrorism. In the vehicles are a number of Muslims of the Sunni sect. Their goal: an ancient grave in the town centre.

There are very few people in the country who understand why, for nine years now, these Palestinians have been laying their lives on the line, week after week, to pray at the tomb of one of their revered sheiks. This year, during Ramadan, something went wrong. This time Israeli security forces caught the group praying at the tomb. The result was a hot pursuit that ended in a hail of bullets that killed 24-year-old Jamal bin Laden .

How do you feel? Sickened? Angry? Outraged? Do you find yourself thinking the members of the security forces who committed this atrocity should be brought to book? Are you demanding to why this was not widely reported in the international media?

That story was untrue. See if you feel as outraged by the real account.

Nablus, 3 AM: At over 90 miles per hour a convoy of six cars races through the dark streets of this former stronghold of terrorism. In the vehicles are a number of Orthodox Jews of the Breslav sect. Their goal: an ancient grave in the town centre.

There are very few people in the country who understand why, for nine years now, these Jews have been laying their lives on the line, week after week, to pray at Joseph’s Tomb. This year, during Passover week, something went wrong. This time Palestinian security forces caught the group praying at the tomb. The result was a hot pursuit that ended in a hail of bullets that killed 24-year-old Ben Yosef Livnat.