Your blogs

  • Nice one George

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 25, 2009

    George Mitchell, the latest peacemaker appointed by the US to work on an Israel-Arab settlement, will need the sense of humour he displayed when he was introduced last week by Secretary of State Clinton. Just recently, he said, he spoke in Jerusalem about his peace-keeping mission in Northern Ireland and mentioned the 800 years of bitterness and hatred which separated the communities there. "Afterward, an elderly gentleman came up to me and he said, 'Did you say 800 years?' And I said, 'Yes, 800.' He repeated the number again – I repeated it again. He said, 'Uh, such a recent argument. No wonder you settled it.'"

  • Chat-up guru can’t help my inner creep

    Paul Lester
    Jan 22, 2009

    My New Year’s resolution this year was to make more effort, to go out more, to be more proactive with regard to meeting women because, let’s face it, they don’t just turn up unannounced at your front door — unless you count the haggard care-in-the-community type who tried to sell me kitchen appliances before Christmas. So last week I bought some new clothes — well, a woolly hat and a hoodie — and I snapped into action… before deciding it was too cold to leave the house and slumping in front of the telly. Again.

    But at least I watched a programme that might be useful in my bid to improve my love life in 2009. VH1’s The Pick-up Artist is a reality TV show from America starring a bloke called Mystery — his real name’s Erik — who offers masterclasses in the fine art of seduction to a bunch of nebbish losers. What do you mean, ring any bells?! I’ll have you know I once convinced a shop assistant in Borehamwood Ryman’s to go on a date with me using a skilled blend of begging and pleading.

    The Pick-up Artist teaches you how to ditch your inner creep by employing a series of complex strategies and techniques such as “negging”, a form of backhanded compliment designed to telegraph a lack of interest and encourage your potential mate (or “target”) to prove her worth (“qualify”) — for example, “Nice eyelashes. Are they real?” Of course, a Jewish woman, for whom the synthetic is a sign of luxury, will take this as straight praise and this particular tactic won’t work.

  • A little something for Shabbat

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 21, 2009

    A plant, a bouquet, a bottle of wine or, maybe, for a change a basket of nuts and preserved fruits – what are you going to take this time to your friends/neighbours/family when you go for kiddush/lunch/dinner on Shabbat? How about taking them nothing at all, except yourselves, and this time donating the cost of the gift to one of those charities (which means all of them) now suffering badly from the recession in which we are immersed? I will bet that, over any weekend, a minimal 0.5per cent of London's estimated 250,000 Jews are eating away from home. If they are only averaging gifts worth £5-£8 per bottle, basket or what have you, my impoverished mathematics suggest there is a potential of well over half-a-million pounds available annually for charitable causes. Will you have the guts to be among the first to tell your hosts that you donated to charity rather than to them? In truth, might they not prefer this and a phone call or note after the event to tell them how delicious was the meal and/or how delightful the company? I think this might be loads better than taking them an offering they really did not appreciate but over which they had to cackle appreciatively when you turned up with it on their doorstep.

  • Pointless in Gaza

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 20, 2009

    George Friedman is a political scientist, prolific author and head of a private US intelligence agency named Stratfor. He is usually worth reading, even when events do not bear out his predictions. This is an extract from his review of the problems immediately facing President Obama:

  • Brace yourself

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 18, 2009

    The barriers are about to come down allowing Western journalists the unfettered access they have been demanding to the Gaza Strip. All the pent-up frustration of reporters and photographers who had to watch the conflict from the Israeli side of the border is about to be given free rein - the consequence is likely to be a two or three-day orgy of horror stories beyond anything you have read until now. It will be just as well to prepare yourself for it.
    War is horrendous. War waged against an enemy deliberately embedded within a tightly packed civilian society has to be even more so. But don't be knocked out by the first rush to print. Wait for the more sober expert assessments of how the IDF applied every skill it has to avoiding civilian casualties and sympathise with both sides when, as inevitable, Israel's armed forces made mistakes.

  • Is this it?

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 17, 2009

    I am really getting long in every tooth. I feel I have been here so often before - for more than 60 years I have been charting Israel's search for a settlement with her neighbours, sometimes with a glimpse of possibility, most times with a sense of whistling in the dark (a dark so often illuminated with flares and shells and bombs), Tonight, moetze shabbat January 17, is this it? Will Israel's unilateral declaration of a ceasefire in Gaza open the way to the kind of Middle East peace settlement which most of the civilised world is looking for? Or is this but another temporary illusion of what might be? I wish I knew. I wish I was happy in my heart. I wish....

  • Heed the Bicom warning

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 15, 2009

    It is scarcely believable that Bicom, one of the community's premier agencies in making the case for Israel, was subjected to ten minutes of mayhem by a gang of pro-Palestinian supporters. who virtually wrecked its office. Doesn't Bicom have any kind of security which would enable them to isolate someone claiming to have a parcel for delivery? This sort of caller should surely be a cause for suspicion in any communal office at a time like this. But that a gang of people could pile in behind him, including one armed with a loud-hailer (not the easiest implement to hide), shows a shocking lack of security planning. The outcome could have been much worse of course. But if this incident serves to reinforce the message that the community cannot be too cautious, it will have served a positive purpose. Not every physical threat is going to come from someone with a dark skin wearing Middle Eastern dress.

  • Obama's top IT man

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 13, 2009

    One of the most powerful positions in US governance is the head of the Federal Communications Commission which, in brief, is in overall control of how America communicates to itself, by radio, TV and broadband internet, as well as its outreach to the world by those means and, of course, satellite. The FCC is necessarily a major component in the planning of Homeland Security and, essentially, can say “yea” or “nay” to any plans within the area of communications. So who heads it, matters. And who will head it in the Obama administration is an old friend of the President-elect from his Harvard Law School days and a man who is not only an all-round legal eagle (he clerked for a well-known federal judge with the wonderful name of Abner J. Mikvah), but also has extensive hands-on experience in the fast-moving world of technology. In addition to that, and it matters to him, he is the son of Holocaust survivors.

    Julius Genachowski, according to his cousin Rabbi Menachem Genack, who directs the well-known kashrut supervision organisation of the Orthodox Union (OU) in the US, attended yeshiva through high school and studied in yeshiva in Israel before going to Columbia and then Harvard, where he met Obama. According to Rabbi Genack, Obama and Julius bonded in part because both were outsiders - one a former yeshiva boy and son of immigrants, the other an African American with international roots.

    Rabbi Genack writes in his understandably proud blog that not only did the two men attend each other's weddings but that : “Julius tells me Obama has always been able to relate to the Jewish experience because of his own background as well as the African-American experience of slavery and discrimination. Julius knows that part of Obama's agenda is to heal the breach between Jews and blacks and to restore the close ties that existed during the civil rights movement.”

  • Obama's choice

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 13, 2009

    The top USA Jewish leadership is keeping well out of the almost subterranean controversy over President-elect Obama's choice of the Rev Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration on January 20. You knew it, of course, that the invocation is a prayer essentially calling down God's blessing on the incoming President, a major part of the inaugural ceremony and something I have always found curious in a nation which separates between Church and State. The Rev Rick is an amazing man. The US media identify him as head of an “evangelistic megachurch” in California. Mega it certainly is: 87,000 members, 22,000 at Sunday services, 300 full-time staff and 9,000 volunteers .

    What nobody seems yet to have decided to their own satisfaction is whether Rick Warren is too Christian or not Christian enough. There is one wing of the evangelistic movement which is absolutely delighted that Mr Warren has been quoted on numerous websites – without firm confirmation – as telling a Jewish woman that she would “burn in hell” because she did not accept Jesus as her Lord. But then the Rev Warren delivered a Friday night sermon at a major conference of Reform Jews just a year or so ago in which he counselled them on how to grow their communities (essentially, “Smile and be nice to everybody”). This brought down the wrath of died-in-the-wool evangelicals who felt he should have stood up there before a couple of thousand Jews and told them not how to grow their communities but to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

    Some of the stuff I have been reading on fundamentalist Christian websites has been rather nasty and I will not point you there. But - now for the good news about the inauguration – one of the performers at the ceremony is our very own Itzhak Perlman who, with Yo-yo Ma, will perform a new piece specially written by John Williams (let's hope it keeps warm for them all). God bless democracy, or, as a United Synagogue website would say “G-d bless democracy.” But that's for another time....

  • What Obama actually said

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 11, 2009

    Over the next few days, we are going to read many interpretations of what President-elect Obama said on Sunday, January 11, about the Middle East. For those who would like to read his own words for themselves, this is what he said in his ABC television interview with George Stephanopulous:

    STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on to national security and foreign policy. We're now in the second week of the conflict in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians. I know you've been reluctant to speak out too much on this. Let me show everyone what you said when you were in Israel last July.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)