Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • China, Russia and fearful symmetry

    Orlando Radice
    Nov 15, 2011

    China may be wavering in its support of “Basher” Assad, but Russia is hanging on in there.

    Syria is a crucial stepping stone in Iran’s axis of influence to the west and Iran would view Russian pressure on Assad as a direct affront to its imperial ambitions.

    Russia, for its part, does not want a fallout with a country that, once nuclear-ready, could act as a counterbalance to US geostrategic dominance – or, for that matter, has vast gas and oil reserves that await exploitation with the help of Russian energy firms.

  • The breadmap to Mideast peace?

    Jennifer Lipman
    Nov 4, 2011

    For those who say there will never be peace in the Middle East, here's a "hole" lot of proof that coexistence is possible.

    Reports the New York Daily News:

    The oldest Jewish bialy and bagel shop in New York City is being rescued by two Muslim cab drivers - and they plan to keep it kosher.

  • Name games

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 31, 2011

    In the past couple of weeks, we have read about the Creation and the Flood in the Torah portions of the week. But for all the drama of the stories, both sedarot end on a seemingly anti-climactic note with a list of names detailing the generations from Adam to Noah in the first sidrah, and then from Shem to Abram (he does not become Abraham until this week) in the second.

    It’s easy to find your attention wandering when they are recited but one curiosity is to pick out which names are still in currency today. Understandably, no one is going to call their son Cain; Abel instantly evokes the American Bible Belt. But Seth, the name of Adam’s third son, enjoys greater popularity.

    I can’t think of any Methusalehs, but you’ll still come across Chanoch, the Hebrew for Enoch. Does the name Ada derive from Adah, one of the wives of Lamech? I don’t know. You are unlikely to bump into a Mahalaleel today but Jared (son of Mahalaleel) is still around.

  • Let's Occupy this debate

    Orlando Radice
    Oct 28, 2011

    It was sad to hear that antisemitism found its way into the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York. The odd banner bearing the age-old tropes about Jewish bankers were spotted in the crowds. But the idea that the whole movement should be tarred with the brush of Jew-hatred is absurd: there was a Kol Nidre service near Wall Street on Yom Kippur, which led to the establishment of Occupy Judaism, swiftly followed by Occupy Simchat Torah, both of which have been camped out in and around the heart of the protest site, Zucotti Park. Anyhow, wasn’t the message of the protest something to do with capitalism, or am I straying from the point here?

    Despite the issue of antisemitism being, evidently, a marginal one, prominent US conservatives – notably the Republican National Committee, Rush Limbaugh and columnist William Kristol – have stepped over themselves to condemn the protests as embodying race-hatred. Meanwhile, the NYT reports a reply from Sean Spicer, the communications director of the Republican National Committee, that: “Democrats were quick to single out any instances of perceived extremism among Tea Party supporters, But with Occupy Wall Street, they turn a blind eye.”

    So like everything else in the US, Jews become a political football in an extreme sport where the opposing side must be battered into the pitch with the first tool that comes to hand.

  • Mazel Tov: Royal succession change at last

    Jennifer Lipman
    Oct 28, 2011

    It looks as though, finally, the UK's archaic laws on royal succession are to be scrapped. The 16 Commonwealth heads have agreed to change the law so that male and female heirs to the throne are treated equally.

    David Cameron says he will put it to parliament at the next session, when, one hopes, even the crustiest and most conservative members will accept it.

    The constitutional reform would also remove the ban on the spouse of a Catholic from taking the throne (a ban that was only in place for Catholics). Under the current system, had Kate Middleton been Catholic, Prince William would effectively have had to forfeit his right to the throne in order to marry her.

  • PSC forced to cancel trade union conference

    Marcus Dysch
    Oct 28, 2011

    The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been forced to cancel a conference with trade unionists which was due to take place tomorrow.

    The event was expected to promote boycott methods and encourage local groups to support BDS measures against Israel. Speakers were to include RMT general secretary Bob Crow.

    In a statement, the PSC said the event would be rescheduled for next year and said the move was being made to avoid disrupting preparations for the day of strike action which unions are planning for November 30.

  • Hearts, minds and Gilad

    Orlando Radice
    Oct 19, 2011

    Once you have got over the surreality of it all, one’s first thought on the release of Gilad Shalit might be: so if Israel and the Palestinians can knit a deal like this together – which took years of proposals, planning and attempts at indirect talks – why can’t they get down to the bigger business of peace talks?

    It is a valid question. However, the answer lies in exactly the same place that the question emerges from: the very reason Israel can countenance exchanging over 1,000 hardened murderers for a single soldier and engage in talks with one of its deadliest enemies is that Israelis’ hearts are welded together more powerfully and defensively than any other national community. The life of Gilad was the life of every youngster who heads into the army. He was indeed the child of the nation.

    Now, this is not normal collective thinking. But Israel is not normal. For 63 years it has been worrying over its very existence. Wars and intifadas produced the Shalit deal as much as they wiped out the trust that would underpin a peace settlement.

  • Thoughts on Gilad Shalit's release

    Jennifer Lipman
    Oct 18, 2011

    When Gilad Shalit was captured, most of us didn't have Facebook. There was no Twitter, no iPhone and certainly no iPad.

    Barack Obama was still a relatively unknown freshman senator from Illinois and Tony Blair was running this country. The economy hadn't collapsed just yet, Osama bin Laden was nowhere to be found. Newspaper websites were free to browse. The West Wing was still on air in Britain.

    While Gilad was in captivity - with almost no word from Hamas about his welfare - his peers were moving on with their lives. They were finishing their army service, going off to see the world. They were starting their studies, falling in love, perhaps even having children.

  • Gilad Shalit

    Jenni Frazer
    Oct 12, 2011

    Within hours of the news breaking that a deal has been done to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, the debate about whether it is proper to exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for the sake of one Israeli soldier has re-erupted.

    Israel has always held to the tenet that it will do anything and pay a very high price for its citizens, something it has demonstrated over and over again. Those who have suffered at the hands of terrorists are, understandably, unhappy about the swap: a former rabbi in the IDF has warned today that those who are being released will slide back into their old haunts and habits immediately, the better to wreak further havoc on Israel.

    I was very struck by the comment on one website in which someone wrote that he did not know how the Shalit family would live with themselves when the next inevitable act of terrorism was committed by someone who had been released so that their son could be free. But who can judge the Shalit family in that way? Who can imagine the pain and suffering undergone by the family in the last five years? And who among us can comprehend the lonely, frightening situation of Gilad himself, never knowing if the next knock on the door was someone coming to kill him?

  • The Honey Trap

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 3, 2011

    I have a seasonal confession to make: I don’t like honey.

    From early years, I have avoided spreading it on my challah or dipping my apple in it.

    As a child, I used to sprinkle sugar on them instead.