Your blogs

  • 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)

  • A rocket recalled

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 10, 2009

    My blog recalling the German rocket attacks on London toward the end of the Second World War reminded one correspondent that the very last V2 rocket on London struck Hughes Mansions in Bethnal Green on March 27, 1945, killing 134 people, 120 of them Jewish. Fifty years later, when Jews gathered to recall that dreadful episode, they were assaulted with whatever weapons were to hand by what the media described as “Asian youths.” It is interesting now to read what Jonathan Freedland , one of the best journalists of which our community can boast, had to say in The Guardian at that time. Read it at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/16/religion.britishidentity

  • Coming off chemotherapy means this really is a happy new year

    Gideon Schneider
    Jan 8, 2009

    Healthy people are a fascinating species, I observed, as the euphoric crowd on Waterloo Bridge raised its collective voice, counting down from 10, willing on the approach of 2009. Untainted by illness, their unquestioning reliance on the infallibility of their bodies gives them an enviable innocence. For me, the cancer cat was out the bag and I doubted I would ever take my health for granted again.

    I stood on the bridge jostling for space with a group of teetering teenagers who, swigging the dregs of their Carlsberg bottles, swayed and fell into each other (and a few startled bystanders), giddy grins slapped across their flushed faces.

    Next to them, a group of thirtysomethings, up from Croydon, festooned in fuchsia feather boas and glittery cowboy hats, were displaying more flesh than a butcher’s window and murdering the chorus of Rihanna’s Umbrella.

  • Tunnel taxes

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 8, 2009

    A lot of people are going to lose out financially if the Gaza tunnel business is closed down. Unlike the BBC, I have a friend on the other side of the Israel/Gaza border and he tells me that the whole economy of the region will suffer if Hamas can no longer collect $2,500 for building a tunnel, plus the “tax” extracted for the goods which pass through those tunnels on the way from Egypt to Gaza. The goods – they can be anything from rockets to nappies – are assessed by Hamas tax collectors on their way through the system, the going rate being more for cigarettes than, say, for fruit or vegetables (rockets, of course, are tax free). Then there is a fee due to those who own the land close to the Egyptian border who allow tunnels to be built under their properties . The highest payment is demanded for passing a human being through from one side to the other. I have not seen them and therefore cannot vouch for the claim that there could be – or could have been – as many as 600 tunnels running from the Egyptian side of the border to the Gazan exits. Certainly, some of the tunnels exposed by the IDF have been fitted with sophisticated electronic travelators (you know the moving belts you hop on to get to your departure gate at Heathrow). I am not a bit surprised by the assessment that the value of goods smuggled through the tunnels during the past two years have approximated $600 million a year. Who will compensate the Hamas “tax collectors” for their loss of revenue (not to mention their colleagues on the Egyptian side who have waved the contraband assignments on their way) ? Most delighted of all if the tunnels go will be the two or three Beduin families which used to have a monopoly on cross-border smuggling in the Egypt-Gaza area using the celebrated “ships of the desert”, known less poetically as camels.

  • London-Sderot

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 7, 2009

    None of those older Londoners who lived through Hitler's bombardment of the capital with pilot-less V1 and V2 rockets in the closing stages of the Second World War can have forgotten the terror sewn by those horrendous weapons lobbed indiscriminately against the civilian population. They will have had a sharp reminder of it lately with events in Israel. Wartime historians noted the huge drop in the morale of Londoners under this kind of bombardment compared with the unity of purpose displayed during the Blitz. Even though preparations were well advanced for the Allied invasion of Europe, Churchill ordered the RAF to hit the rocket sites and the Americans joined in, with many thousands of tons of far from accurate bombs being poured into northern France and never mind who got killed in the process. Tragically the victims also included hundreds of forced labourers brought from the concentration camps to build the launch sites. But despite the almost ceaseless bombardment, the rocketing was never stopped completely until Allied forces liberated those parts of France and Holland from which they were being launched. Australian science writer Karl S. Kruszelnick has commented that the lesson from the V-2 rocket attack was that a relatively small number of attacks by missiles could have major military, strategic and psychological effects on the country being attacked - even if the missiles were primitive, unreliable and inaccurate. The folks in Sderot know all about that.

  • The End Is Nigh

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 26, 2008

    A mass exodus of war-zone refugees is less chaotic than Oxford Street, two days before Christmas. An impenetrable wall of harangued and fatigued gift-hunters surge forward, escaping the crush by veering off through the doors of Selfridges and HMV. Salmon may swim upstream, but there’s no hope for the pedestrian trying to walk against this tide. Impervious to vehicular traffic, they stray in to the road, weaving through moving cars like lab rats in a maze, as if their countless carrier bags - slung over shoulders and dragging by their heels – will somehow act as a buffer between their bodies and the oncoming double-decker. Watching the insanity from my seat at the back of the bus, desperate to reach the hospital on time for my 2.15 appointment, I rued my decision to avoid the underground.

    I’m no Scrooge – let them have their festive fun – but this appointment was of particular importance. Waiting for me at the hospital were the results of my PET/CT scan. If the cancer still remained in my body I would face another three months of torturous chemotherapy – an eventuality I was desperate to avoid. While holed up in traffic between Fenwick’s and BHS, I staved off thoughts of the worst case outcome by reminding myself of the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” But, those poisonous thoughts rumbled on, persistent as the hum of the bus engine. Forget the Twelve Steps, a double vodka would have gone down well.

    Greetings cards, tinsel and tins of Quality Street lined the counter of the hospital reception. “Sit in the waiting room and we’ll call you when Professor Goldstone is ready to see you.” I found a chair and fretfully watched the second hand inch round the clock. The last month of chemotherapy had been taxing – the stress, the anxiety and the incessant nausea. “I can’t cope with any more of this,” I decided as my eyes welled up. “Take a deep breath,” I told myself, holding back the tears, “There’s no point worrying and if the news is bad, of course I will cope.”