Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Comparing Gaza to the Shoah disgusts a Catholic columnist

    Simon Rocker
    Jan 23, 2009

    Writing in the Catholic weekly, The Universe, the columnist James Kelly explains why "I'm apparently a member of a minority group... when I learn about what's happening in the Middle-East, I don't feel the need to rush out and burn the nearest Israeli flag.
    "Despite the way it's presented as a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I don't find myself making a placard in support of terrorist groups who have as their goals the destruction of Israel and all Jews."
    Although critical of Israel's assault on Gaza, he was repelled by some of the "deeply unpleasant" scenes of protest outside the Israeli Embassy.
    "Equally as disgusting," he concludes, "is the opinion that Israel has forgotten its own history and is now committing a holocaust against Muslims, that Palestine has become like the Warsaw ghetto.
    "The Holocaust was the deliberate and planned attempt at the racial extermination of the Jews. Israel is not systematically attempting to wipe Muslims from the face of the Earth. Anyone who claims that is misguided or deliberating undercutting Israel's very right to exist, born as it was out of that horrendous event.
    "And there perhaps lies the real problem. Many in the Middle East do not recognise Israel's right to exist. Mixed with a virulent does of antisemitism, this mindset means peace becomes ever more unlikely."
    The (Anglican) Church Times, however, lays into Israel with a hostile editorial entitled "Israel is judged by what it destroyed" and a letter co-authored by Canon Paul Ostreicher who cites his Jewish background in calling for economic sanctions.

  • What the school league tables don’t tell you

    Simon Rocker
    Jan 23, 2009

    Our breakdown, in today's issue, of this year's school league tables confirms that Jewish schools are maintaining their high standards. Particularly worth noting is the high "value-added" rating of state-aided secondary schools: it means that pupils have done better in exams at 16 than could have been anticipated from their ability on entry at 11 (and no, not every pupil has a private tutor).
    But one thing that you won't find among the increasing amount of data is how many pupils are taking "Jewish" subjects at GCSE or A-level. Of course, the Jewish ethos of a school extends beyond the formal curriculum and it is good that not everything of educational value can be counted simply in terms of As and Bs.
    Yet providing a grounding in Jewish history and Hebrew is the business of Jewish schools and exams offer one incentive to study. Perhaps mainstream Jewish schools should set a target for at least a majority of their pupils to leave with some kind of qualification in Hebrew (biblical or modern).

  • Some good news for Israel’s economy

    Candice Krieger
    Jan 22, 2009

    News this week that an enormous natural gas reserve has been discovered at an offshore drilling site near Haifa, Israel, has caused quite a buzz. And it’s more than just a lot of hot air.

    The discovery could have significant implications for the economy. Believed to be the largest natural gas reserve discovered in Israel, worth around $15 billion, the reserve could give Israel independence concerning anything involving natural gas, reducing dependence on deliveries from East Mediterranean Gas Company's reserves in Egypt and Gaza.

    The reserve site, called Tamar-1, is a joint venture between four major stakeholders; the Houston-based Noble Energy, and three major Israeli partners Isramco Negev, Delek Drilling, and Avner Oil and Gas Exploration.

  • Why the Obama hype leaves me cold

    Danny Caro
    Jan 22, 2009

    Excuse me for sounding ignorant but I can’t understand all the hype surrounding the inauguration of President Obama.

    The media frenzy has reached ridiculous proportions with his every blink being covered over the past few days.

    Obama has attended 10 celebratory balls but are 10 parties really necessary in the current climate? I think not. It’s worth remembering that we’re in the midst of a recession, a war in Iraq and turmoil in the Middle East. I certainly don’t feel like celebrating.

  • Not glamorous, but good

    Daniella Peled
    Jan 22, 2009

    Earlier this week I heard a delicious rumour. The reason that the new US Middle East envoy had not been announced, my friend suggested, was that it was actually going to be Bill Clinton.

    This suggestion had a fantastically pleasing symmetry. Bill got so, so near to an agreement on the core issues during his presidency, the last time a US leader took an active part in peacemaking. There would be no question over Bill’s closeness to the Secretary of State, and indeed his mobile phone is probably stuffed with the personal numbers of every significant world leader. Above all, he is a superstar – which was probably a good reason for Obama to reject him. After all, what President would want to be eclipsed by his own Middle East envoy?

    Well, as captivating as that piece of gossip was – and I am sure it had some truth to it – the actual pick is a good one. George Mitchell is a widely respected former US senator who has experience in two of the most convoluted peace processes in the world. He actually helped resolve one of them, as Clinton’s envoy to Northern Ireland, by setting out the principles that would eventually lead to the Good Friday agreement.

  • The stress of being a Spurs fan

    Craig Silver
    Jan 22, 2009

    As any football fan will tell you, we are very passionate about the love and support we have for our team, be it the Premier League, the FA Cup, and most recently, the Carling Cup. We stand by them through thick and thin.

    That said, let me tell you there is nothing and I mean nothing more stressful then being a Spurs fan right now. Last night for 118 minutes of our thrilling Carling Cup semi-final tie with Championship side Burnley, I couldn’t believe what I was watching.

    It’s not like we had a tough job on our hands. It was a 4-1 lead from the first leg at White Hart Lane. We could have just sat back and defended or just been professional and played like the Premier League team we apparently are.

  • Orthodox rabbi slated for attending Obama church service

    Simon Rocker
    Jan 21, 2009

    A New York rabbi is under fire from his Orthodox colleagues for having taken part in a service at Washington's National Cathedral to commemorate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
    According to the JTA, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein joined interfaith representatives in reciting a non-denominational prayer at the National Prayer Service, a traditional post-inauguration event today.
    A spokesman for the Rabbinical Council of America was reported as saying: "The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited."

  • Inauguration Day

    Jenni Frazer
    Jan 20, 2009

    I am sitting here listening to Barack Obama's inauguration speech. My colleagues, as doubtless in other offices around the country, are glued to the screen. If oratory and rhetoric could be bottled, and help to relaunch the economy and even bring peace to the Middle East, then surely this man has the capacity to do it. Very few people have the ability to inspire; for once, let us cast aside cynicism, and pray that President Obama can do the job. We will all benefit if that hope comes true.

  • Just what has Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert got against journalists?

    Daniella Peled
    Jan 20, 2009

    Haaretz reports that the misguided decision to bar all journalists from Gaza during Operation Cast Lead was down to the edict of the Prime Minister’s Office. The High Court itself ruled against the ban; by last week both the IDF and the Defence Ministry said that journalists could be allowed in. But the PMO stood firm.

    Of course, Olmert has got form in this area. During his visit to London last month, he barred JC special correspondent Anshel Pfeffer from all his press briefings. Why? Because seven years before, while Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, Pfeffer had publicly criticised him over the Versailles disaster, where poor construction led to the collapse of a wedding hall in which 23 people were killed.

    I was also banned from all the media events with Olmert. Why? Because the week before, the JC ran a front-page piece revealing that his visit had been deemed to be entirely pointless by senior officials from both Israel and the UK.

  • Payers not Players

    Daniella Peled
    Jan 19, 2009

    You’ve got to feel sorry for those poor Europeans. They funnel vast sums of money into building the infrastructure of Gaza, only to have it destroyed by the Israelis.

    “We don’t want to go on to reconstruct Gaza every I-don't-know-how-many-years,” said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner this week. “This is not what we want. What we would like to see is a clear sustainable peace."”

    Indeed. But as much as the EU wants to have a significant role in Middle East peacemaking, little has changed since the days of Oslo. Then, too, the Europeans were called upon to stump up the cash without having much say in the decision-making process. Their involvement in the Quartet was supposed to be a sop to their desire to be players rather than just payers.