- Geoffrey Paul
Jul 9, 2009
Perhaps the felon who fought extradition to Ireland because he did not like onions in his food will make do with the multiplicity of cans of Hebrew National soups which have had to be withdrawn because they have unannounced celery, mustard or soya in their content. I myself had a notion of what criminality must feel like when, having trawled through Tesco's fruit and vegetable bargains this morning, I espied a private treat (my wife is a working gal), a tin of Hebrew National barley soup and put it in my trolley for a private, unannounced lunch. You can't have that, said the guy at the checkout desk, it's an “emergency withdrawal.” A what? Not to be sold. Not to you. Not to anyone. But it was on the shelf, together with a host of companions. Were they all to rust alone in some distant landfill? Apparently, yes, because people who couldn't take celery, mustard or soya might have had an allergic reaction and been able, presumably, to sue for thousands. I didn't have a chance, or a thought, to check for onions. But I am sure the Irish can do that.
- Geoffrey Paul
Jun 29, 2009
For more than sixty years, Jewish and Gentile supporters of Israel organised in the Anglo-Israel Association have been working away quietly in the parliamentary, academic and educational fields to create a better understanding of Israel in the UK and vice versa. On a shoestring budget and relying on a headquarters' staff of one, director Ruth Saunders, backed up by volunteers, the AIA has created a reputation for preferring fact to propaganda and private discussion to public argument. This is what probably helped it to pull off a major coup last week when, in the palatial Locarno Suite in the Foreign Office, former ambassadors of Israel to the Court of St James's and British ambassadors to Israel sat down together for a day-long "Ambassadors' Roundtable" sponsored by the Association.
The more than 10 hours' of discussions were conducted under "Chatham House" rules which means participants are free to use information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. Having said which, it is no secret that, the ambassadors apart, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Professors Martin Gilbert and Shlomo Avineri took a prominent part in the proceedings which were not without their heat - hardly surprising since the theme for the roundtable was "to address concerns about signs of mounting anti-Israeli sentiment in the UK."
Reports circulating later suggested that a leading Jewish Tory parliamentarian set a snarling cat among the pigeons with a blistering attack on Israeli policies and her foreign minister. But for the rest things seem to have been much more measured. The kind of diplomatic approach adopted by participants was reflected in a brochure produced for the occasion in which former envoys in either country spoke for publication to Katy Ostro. Here, the ambassadors looked back, mainly with warmth, on their time in Britain and Israel. Sir Patrick Moberly (1981-1984} is still in touch with Israeli friends. What he admired most about Israelis was "their constant liveliness, their energy and determination It is these warm-hearted people that make Israel the country it is."
Perhaps the warmest of all is Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles (2001-2003) who went on from Israel to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia and then Afghanistan and who is now the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, a hot seat if ever there was one. Cowper-Coles told Katy Ostro: "Israel is the most wonderful country on earth. If it could attain peace with the wider region this would be an invaluable asset in every sense. I believe that one of the tragedies for the region is that many Arabs have happy memories of Jewish populations in their midst, such as in Baghdad and Cairo, and that the separation of their communities has distanced the many good things that were held in common. For Israel to survive, this common destiny between Arabs and Jews must be embraced."
- Geoffrey Paul
Jun 19, 2009
Of course, it had to happen one day. A reform synagogue in Virginia podcasts all its religious services and, reports the rabbi of Temple B'nai Shalom in Fairfax Station, “It's been fantastic for our members, especially the elderly, people with chronic illness and those serving in the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and foreign service assignments.” Why, people even “take services on their vacations and on business trips...our teens listen to the podcasts even when they are not away.” I cannot imagine this will ever catch on with the United Synagogue. Can you imagine, no more deficit shuls or crumbling cathedrals (often the same)? Services will be transmitted from Studio 4B at Marble Arch and from the property sales there would be tons of money for the redundant rabbis' pension fund. Of course, it would spell the end of communal kiddushim and we would have to take kiddush at home alone. No, most definitely not for the United Synagogue. Not in my lifetime...
- Geoffrey Paul
Jun 14, 2009
Egypt is not exactly a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. Although President Mubarak, now in his fifth term, authorised a multi-party system of presidential elections in 2005, matters were so rigged that almost nobody else had a chance of winning. He would probably win once more if he stood again when his term ends in 2011. But he will then be 83.
Egypt is key to the maintenance of peace in the Middle East. Although her peace treaty with Israel has never blossomed into the warm and friendly neighbourly relations that so many Israelis hoped for, she has rigorously upheld the legal terms of the treaty and frequently placed a cooling hand on those local and regional hotheads who would like to turn the cold peace into a hot war.
Who follows Mubarak is important to the continuation of tranquility on Israel's southern border. Nothing is certain in the Middle East, but current signs are that, as has happened in Morocco, Syria and Jordan, a son will follow a father into the seat of power and Husni Mubarak will be succeeded by his 45-year old son, Gamal (known to the “street” in Cairo as “Jimmy”).
- Geoffrey Paul
Jun 8, 2009
In the week that marked the anniversary of the D-Day landings and a war in which the UK lost nearly half a million soldiers and civilians in the struggle to defeat Nazism, UK electors send two members of the British National Party to join their representatives in the European Parliament. Is there a national streak of insanity?
- Geoffrey Paul
Jun 7, 2009
Some friends of Israel, and many Israelis themselves, have been so forensic in picking through references to Israel in President Obama's Cairo speech that, to quote him from a press conference statement in Paris on Saturday, while “I've discussed the importance of a cessation of settlement construction... I also want to reemphasise, because that's gotten more attention than what I've also said, which is the Palestinians have to renounce violence, end incitement, improve their governance capacity so that Israelis can be confident that the Palestinians can follow through on any commitments they make across the table." Few commentators have so far seriously assessed what improving governance capacity means. In the first place, it must mean ending the internal strife between the Palestinian factions. Within the past 24 hours, Fatah has arrested Hamas members in the West Bank and Hamas has rounded up Fatah followers in Gaza, including one who reportedly died of a heart attack when apprehended and another who was accused of spying - he was charged with passsing information about Hamas to the Paletinian Authority. Every effort made by Cairo and others to bring the two sides to an agreement has collapsed. A final “reconciliation” meeting is due in Egypt on July 5. There is absolutely nothing to suggest it will be any more successful than the others. Mr Obama might yet find - like virtually every one of his predecessors - that his vision of peace is frustrated not so much by Israeli obduracy as by the inability of Palestinian leaders to stop burying the hatchet in their brothers' heads.
The academic year is coming to an end and, after a remarkably varied six months, my highlights have been:
- Best Campaign: as part of Holocaust Memorial Day, Leeds University JSoc acquired more than 12,000 bottle tops to create a centrepiece for the university’s new Hillel House, to represent just one per cent of those who suffered. Support came from far and wide; large numbers from the Limmud conference and, bizarrely, contributions from Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs.
- Best comment: When asked to justify Oxford’s under-21 rugby team’s “Bring a Fit Jew” bar night, team captain Phil Boon claimed that he “didn’t see what the problem was” with his event. Mr Boon later conceded: “I can understand why it might have offended some people, but it would have been an awesome social.” Duh.
This week UJS held its inaugural student awards dinner in Middlesex New Synagogue, Harrow — the community of the late Alan Senitt, the former UJS chairman after whom an award was named. The awards recognised the hard work and dedication of Jewish students who have made an exceptional contribution to Jewish life on campus over the past academic year. The results were:
- UJIA Education Award: Adam Parker, a founding member of the Oxford Israeli Cultural Society.
- Developing JSoc of the Year award: Brighton and Sussex JSoc, which has continued to provide an exciting calendar of events for their students, despite the background of political troubles on their campus.
UJS-Hillel will open a new non-residential student centre in Leeds University in September 2009, in place of the existing Hillel House, due to a number of central and local government regulations in respect of shared properties. As well as a café serving kosher food, on the new premises there will be a chaplain’s office, where students can get confidential advice, and fully-equipped meeting rooms for student societies. In addition to the student centre, agreements have been made with both the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University to offer kosher accommodation within close proximity of the newly refurbished centre. Daniel Marcus, chief executive of UJS-Hillel, said: “The Leeds Hillel student centre will be a natural home for the Jewish societies in Leeds, and will provide a unique and cutting-edge space for social, cultural, educational and political programmes for all Leeds-based Jewish students.”
- Geoffrey Paul
Mar 25, 2009
I thought I had heard everything until someone sent me a tape of part of a speech by Nadia Matar, co-founder of “The Women in Green.“ These Jewish settler ladies, as you will know, are committed to fighting by every means for the incorporation of the West Bank – Judea and Samaria – within the State of Israel and the disenfranchisement of any Arab crazy enough to stay there. Speaking in the highly-respectable, and rather beautiful, new Safra Synagogue on New York's East Side, Matar rambled on before an obviously delighted audience about her territorial/biblical philosophy until she reached her chilling climax: just as Churchill understood that, in order to bring peace to Europe, "he had to destroy the Nazi beast, today we must destroy all the terrorist organisations. We must kill all the terrorist leaders, starting with Mahmoud Abbas...” Mr Abbas just happens to be the elected leader of West Bank Palestinians and probably the only man who could bring his people to a peaceful settlement with Israel. But, for Ms Matar, it is not the concept of land for peace that drives her but all the pieces of the land for the fundamentalist Judaism she espouses. Just as shocking was the applause this earned her from her New York Jewish audience. I am glad the rabbi of the congregtion, when he heard what she had said, issued a statement “rejecting wholeheartedly the odious and repugnant remarks” of Ms Matar. While his synagoge hall had always been available to outside groups on a non-discriminatory basis, the nature of Ms Matar's remarks disqualified the sponsoring organisation from any further use of the space. The name of the sponsoriing group, by the way, is “Americans for a Safe Israel.”