Your blogs

  • Jewish cossacks

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jul 21, 2009

    Time and again in accounts of Cossack raids on their Jewish or Polish neighbours, we read of men on horseback, wielding fiery touches, setting fire to fields and crops and terrifying the local populace. I recalled these accounts with a prickle of horror when I read today's Israeli press reports of between 1,500 and 2,000 Arab olive trees being set on fire by horseback riding settlers from the ever-troublesome West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. It is from this place, you may recall, that Israel paratroopers were withdrawn a few years ago after clashes with settlers. What gives this ugly story an even uglier twist is that the settlers say their attacks are not aimed specifically at local Arabs but at the Israeli Government as a warning of what will happen if they continue to demolish illegal structures on West Bank settlements. If and when the Israel Government moves against the settlements themselves, I fear we will see battles of Jew against Jew as have not been experienced in modern history. It is a terrible prospect, made worse by the fact that one side believes it is acting in the name and with the blessing of God.

  • Auschwitz 'corrective'

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jul 15, 2009

    It is not very often you read a “corrective” about the Holocaust that makes you sit up and say, Yes, that's right. I hadn't seen it that way. But I have just had such an experience with the July 16 issue of the New York Review of Books. There, Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale and specialist in Eastern Europe, claims that by 1943 and 1944, when most of the killing of West European Jews took place, “the Holocaust was in considerable measure complete . Two thirds of the Jews who would be killed during the war were already dead by the end of 1942. The main victims, the Polish and Soviet Jews, had been killed by bullets fired over death pits or by carbon monoxide from internal combustion engines pumped into gas chambers at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor in occupied Poland.”

    So why my skewed perception, which I am sure most other Western Jews share? Explains Snyder, “The very reasons that we know about Auschwitz warp our understanding of the Holocaust: we know about Auschwitz because there were survivors and there were survivors because Auschwitz was a labour camp as well as a death factory. These survivors were largely West European Jews because Auschwitz is where West European Jews were usually sent. After World War II, West European Jewish survivors were free to publish as they liked, whereas East Euopean Jewish survivors, if caught behind the iron curtain could not. In the West, memoirs of the Holocaust could (although very slowly) enter into historical writing and public consciousness.”

    You can read more of Snyder's fascinating views on “The Ignored Reality” at www.nybooks.com/articles/22875

  • Luck of the Irish

    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.

  • "Best country on earth!"

    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."

  • Don't switch off yet

    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...

  • After Tehran, Cairo - but different

    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”).

  • Madness

    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?

  • Also look the other way...

    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.

  • My highlights of the academic year

    Simon Friend
    Mar 26, 2009

    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.

  • UJS holds inaugural student awards dinner

    Simon Friend
    Mar 26, 2009

    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.