Miriam Shaviv

  • Reading into Obama's note to G-d

    Jul 28, 2008

    The Israeli daily Ma'ariv is currently being blasted by all sides for publishing the (actually rather charming) note left by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the Western Wall.

    The paper has been criticised by no less than the rabbi who supervises the Kotel for interfering in Obama's relationship with G-d and for acting in a "sacrilegious" manner. The Police have even been called upon to intervene. Meanwhile, one of the yeshivah students who supposedly took the note has apologised publicly, although one does wonder why he had to go on national television in order to make his regret known.

    A rare dissenting voice comes from blogger "Jameel", who asks whether Ma'ariv would still be in hot water for publishing Obama's kvittel  had the sentiments he expressed in his note been more politically loaded.

    (Of-course Obama must have known perfectly well that his note could be read and so was never going to write anything sensitive, but nevertheless.)

    Norm Geras on Normblog also has an interesting perspective

    I'm waiting on all those secular liberals who have been longing for a Democrat to succeed Bush in the White House, and were in the habit of sneering at Tony Blair's acknowledgement of having a relationship with his Maker, to back off from their enthusiasm for the candidacy of the Senator for Illinois. I mean...'make me an instrument of your will'.

    What? I'll wait in vain? You don't think they will back off? Devoutness is bad only when you want it to be? Hey, you may just be right about that.

    Reason makes a similar point, asking how the media would have reacted had the same words been penned by George W.

  • How blaming Israel can get you off the hook in a court of law

    Jul 25, 2008

    This is one of the most worrying examples of anti-Israeli bias I have ever come across.

    Last month, six men were acquitted in a Belfast court of causing more than £300,000 of damage to an office belonging to an American arms manufacturer in Derry, Northern Ireland, in August 2006 (one was convicted of theft of two computer discs).

    They had broken into Raytheon’s building, destroyed its computer mainframe, damaged PCs, thrown documents out the window, and barricaded themselves inside the building for eight hours.

    The Israel connection?

    The men – actually nine of them, who became known as the “Raytheon nine”, although only six were charged – claimed that "weapons manufactured by Raytheon were being used by Israel to bomb Lebanon" during the Second Lebanon War that summer.

    And this was apparently a good enough defence for the jury.


    According to the BBC Northern Ireland website, the company, which does make missiles, “has said its Derry operation is limited to software development and not the physical manufacture of weapons.”
    Nevertheless, as one of the defendants, Eamonn McCann explained outside the courthouse,

    "The jury have accepted that we were reasonable in our belief that the Israeli Defence Forces were guilty of war crimes in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. The action we took was intended to have, and did have, the effect of hampering or delaying the commission of war crimes."

    So now we are in a bizarre, and frightening situation, where causing significant damage to another’s property is all right – as long as it is meant to hurt Israel. Exactly when did this become an acceptable legal defence? And at what point did the Palestinian / Arab narrative become so dominant and such a norm, on these isles, that Israel committing “war crimes” is accepted, in a court of law, as a "reasonable belief"?

    Unfortunately, though the case appeared to receive some local coverage, it never made the national news and really only came to light this month, when the Journalist, the magazine of the National Union of Journalists, ran an interview with Mr McCann. (This week it was picked up by Mark Steel of the Independent, who wrote in support of the defendants.)

    Which brings me to my second point. Not only is Mr McCann – the only member of the so-called Raytheon 9 who was actually convicted of anything – a member of the NUJ national executive, he had the support of the union’s Irish Executive Council.

    It is unclear to me whether this means moral support or practical support. But either way, is this really an appropriate stance for the union to take? And should this man, now convicted of theft and sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge, really be representing other journalists?

    I leave you with the final words of his statement outside the court:

    “We have not denied or apologised for what we did.  Personally speaking, and I believe I speak for all of us, it was the best thing I have ever done in my life.”

  • Chumra of the week

    Jul 24, 2008

    First, we had Orthodox Jewish women wearing burkas.  Now, we have Charedi women coming back from weddings and other simchas being told they should wear 'overcoats' - because the sight of them in their best clothes in the street could be too much for some men. (According to the Kosover Rebbe of Boro Park, "Though it may be hot in warm weather, it is a good thing".)

    The burkas were bad enough - but at least (if there is an 'at least' when you are talking about women feeling they must cover up their own faces) the initiative came from the women themselves, and was really not supported by most rabbis or others in their community.

    But the idea of women having to cover up perfectly modest, but nice-looking clothes, comes from another source: a commercial company, called Modest Design, which came up with the idea, and then sought rabbinic precedent and approval.

    Let's hope that what is after all simply a money-making scheme does not evolve into a completely unnecessary social norm, as these chumras are prone to do.

    (See also Parshablog)

  • The Russian revolution continues

    Jul 24, 2008

    A few weeks ago, The Jerusalem Post's Calev Ben-David reported that the brand-new editor of Ha'aretz, Dov Alfon, was making substantial changes at the paper, toning down or getting rid of many of the best-known voices on the far left and firing (and then rehiring) its social affairs reporter, who focused on the plight of the poor.

    Ben-David explained at the time that:

     Like all print media nowadays, Haaretz is struggling to keep and attract readers and advertisers, and some of the editorial changes seem to clearly reflect an effort to make the paper a little less heavy, including reducing and putting less emphasis on its most radical voices. There is only so much space on a news page, and if you start focusing more on economic, consumer and lifestyle issues, it's going to come at the expense of other fields, including politics and social affairs.

    What makes these changes particularly significant at Haaretz is that there has long been a seeming contradiction between the paper's progressive stance on peace and security issues and its editorial support for free-market capitalism... The more laissez-faire economics, long advocated by business editor Nehemia Strassler and exemplified by [business paper] The Marker's content, is now very much the outlook of the establishment, and given the increased editorial influence that publication is having on Haaretz as a whole, it seems inevitable it would bleed over to its news coverage and editorial line.

    And now another change. Ha'aretz's US correspondent, Shmuel Rosner - author of the highly popular Rosner's Domain blog - announced a couple of months ago ago that he would be returning to Israel and leaving Ha'aretz. His replacement, notes the Tikun Olam blog - although this was already reported on Israeli sites a few weeks ago - will be 29-year-old Russian-Israeli journalist Natasha Mozgovoya, a former Yediot Achronot correspondent and news anchor on Channel 2 and on one of the Israeli-Russian television channels.

    According to this profile from 2006 (Hebrew), she had problems being accepted by viewers on Israeli television because of her Russian accent  - though she made aliyah at age 11, and has lived more than half her life in Israel.

    Tikun Olam calls her arrival in Washington "welcome news for the Jewish peace community". - presumably because he doesn't like Rosner.  But more to the point, if Tikun Olam is right, is the rise of the Russian community on the Israeli media scene. Not only is the Russian-language paper Vesti increasingly influential; Ma'ariv is part-owned by Russian-Israeli businessman Vladimir Gusinsky, and the paper, it was revealed just this week, is currently in talks with Russian-born American-British businessman Len Blavatnik, who wishes to acquire all or part of it. The Jerusalem Post is also owned by a company, Mirkaei Tikshoret, most of whose other holdings are Russian-language.

    Now Ha'aretz - bastion of the old Ashkenazi establishment - appoints a talented young Russian-accented woman to one of its most coveted positions. Surely this could not, would not have happened a few years back. It's a great opportunity for her and I wish her luck.

    However, in a way it is a shame that she will be "stuck" in Washington, out of the Israeli media hub. It would have been nice - and important - to continue hearing her Russian accent on the Israeli airwaves, and keep her in sight, in mind.

    Then again, I guess she is only 29. Still time enough for all that.

  • Gordon Brown's speech defect

    Jul 23, 2008

    Yesterday I reported that, according to Sky News's Adam Boulton, our prime minister has difficulty pronouncing the word 'Jerusalem'. Now The Evening Standard's diary adds,

    Sources at the Jerusalem Post note that Brown mangled his attempt at a Hebrew quotation before going on to pronounce "Auschwitz" as "ouchwhich".

    How do you think he would pronounce, "complete disaster as prime minister"?

  • Why can't Gordon Brown pronounce 'Jerusalem'?

    Jul 22, 2008

    Adam Boulton of Sky News is puzzled about one aspect of Gordon Brown's visit to Israel:

    He seems to have trouble with the word Jerusalem, repeatedly pronouncing it Joo-rislem. The only explanation we can find is that he’s trying to remember how his father, the Reverend Brown, named the Eternal City in Hebrew. I’m told that pronounced correctly in the local language the name should sound like Yerooshalyam (sic)

     Or is he making a political point: Jew-rislem?

  • Living in denial over Samir Kuntar

    Jul 21, 2008

    Dion Nissenbaum visits Samir Kuntar, back home in Lebanon, and tries to explain the question haunting so many: How can the Lebanese possibly take pride in, even celebrate, a child-murderer?

    Clearly, many people - the majority - simply want to harm the Israeli "enemy". But Nissenbaum adds:

    Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Beirut-based political analyst and Hezbollah specialist, said people here simply don't accept Israel's version of events.

    "I don't think all Lebanese believe he actually killed the child," she said.

    Not impossible; there is a respectable tradition of living in denial in the Middle East - witness the number of people who do not, for example, believe that Muslims were responsible for 9/11.

    UPDATE: SoccerDad fisks Nissenbaum's interview

  • Barack Obama, Shabbos goy

    Jul 18, 2008

    Colin Powell and Elvis Presley are two famous Shabbos Goys – they were both employed, in their youth, by Orthodox families to carry out certain acts forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath, such as turning lights on and off.

     But are they about to be eclipsed by one Barack Obama? According to Newsweek,

    In 1999, while still in the Illinois State Senate, he shared an office suite with Ira Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew. Obama peppered Silverstein with questions about Orthodox restrictions on daily life: the kosher laws and the sanctions against certain kinds of behavior on the Sabbath. "On the Sabbath, if I ever needed anything, Barack would always offer," remembers Silverstein. "Some of the doors are electric, so he would offer to open them … I didn't expect that."

    The article, about Obama’s faith, also adds:

    Thanks to the efforts of his religious outreach team, he has an army of clerics and friends praying for him and e-mailing him snippets of Scripture or Midrash to think about during the day.

    Shame no one sent him a proper definition of what “undivided Jerusalem” actually means.

  • The new Zionist weapon: giant, indestructable rats

    Jul 18, 2008

    Palestine Today reveals the latest Zionist weapon, which they allege is being used against Jerusalem's Arab population: rats.

    Rats have become a weapon used by new Israeli colonizers against citizens in the Old City of occupied Jerusalem, in order to displace and expel them from their homes.

    Districts in the old part of town are suffering and facing recently this new type of Israeli actions that aim to harass Jerusalemites in order to force them to leave...

    For two months, dozens of settlers have been going to the alleys and streets of the old town, carrying with them dozens of iron cages full of rats, and to release them in the town into open drainage channels.

    The citizens of the old town say that the rats grow very large, adding that different types of poisons did not contribute to eradicating them, and pointed to the large municipal slowness in dealing with this issue which is causing a humanitarian catastrophe and environmental losses.

    According to Hassan Khater, Secretary General of the Islamic-Christian Front for Defending Jerusalem and its Holy Sites, these rats pose a major threat to Jerusalemites who inhabit these neighborhoods, and that the situation is serious and very poor, emphasizing the failure of the occupation in the municipality of Jerusalem to address the issue.

    He reported during a press conference held in the government media center in Ramallah yesterday that the purpose of this measure is to increase the suffering of Jerusalemites in the old town, transforming their lives through the tragedy of fact, with the aim of pushing them to leave their homes and leave the city.

    Khater added that the Front had received many complaints and comments from citizens Jerusalemites living in the revival of the old town, according to sabotage these rats property large number of houses and shops, calling to shed further light on this disaster.

    There is a link between the colonists active in the deployment of rats in alleys of the Old City meant for the deportation and displacement of populations, and between the occupation and the deployment of hundreds of pigs in the mountains and valleys of the West Bank aimed at sabotaging the property and crops.

    Of course, the idea of settlers roaming the city, freeing feral rats is highly unlikely: not just because such a plan would be ridiculous and useless, but because both sides of Jerusalem, East and West, are already swarming with feral rats - and always have been.

    Some people believe, for example, that the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE was caused by an infestation of rats that led to a sudden deadly plague in the city.

    A couple of millenia later, in the 1930s, a heavy rat problem led to the British - then in control of the country - releasing hundreds of cats in the city. The long-term result was that Jerusalem became plagued by stray cats, a problem which remains - and which Jerusalem is notorious for - to this day. But the rat problem was never really solved.

    They say that you are never more than 15 metres away from a rat in London, and that there are more rats than human beings in North America. But Jerusalem is the only city I have ever lived in where I have been constantly aware of them.

    It started when I opened the door to my bedroom one evening to find an enormous rat scurrying across my desk (it had climbed in through an open window); it took me another eight months to be able to open the door again without staring at that exact spot to make sure the rat had really gone. It continued several months later with a rat making its way into my roommate's closed food cupboard and munching its way through some of her best chocolate and nuts. Not to mention several other too-close encounters across the city, in some of its very finest neighborhoods, which I won't go into here; Suffice to say, I've been left with a real phobia of rodents.

    The Holy City's dirty little secret.

    (Via, who had the Palestine Today piece auto-translated through Google)

  • A Chassidic rebel goes public

    Jul 17, 2008

    The cover story in New York magazine this week is a must-read. It features Gitty Grunwald, a Satmar Chassid who lost religion, left her husband, and is now fighting her former spouse for custody of their daughter, Esther Miriam, 4:

    In early 2007, Gitty fled Kiryas Joel for good, taking Esther Miriam with her. At first, they lived in the relatively relaxed frum (Orthodox) community of Monsey, New York, then moved to Brooklyn. “It was just the two of us. I loved it,” Gitty says. Then in January of this year, as Esther Miriam was walked with her class to a Flatbush playground, she was taken, says Gitty, who believes her husband was behind the act.

    “Some KJ guys snatched her off the street. Esther Miriam said they were wearing masks. All she remembers was crying, crying so hard,” Gitty says, calling it the worst day of her life. “When they told me what happened, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was being suffocated. I still do.”

    The article is told exclusively from Gitty's point of view, without any attempt at telling her husband's side of the story. Nevertheless, there are plenty of insights to be gained - such as the role of blogs in cementing her desire to rebel (a point which was made quite clearly in Hella Winston's book The Unchosen, about Chassidic rebels, several years ago); the problems faced by children of ba'alei teshuvah, or returnees to the faith; and the difficulty Chassidic renegades experience coping with the outside world, once they leave their community. 

    But my real question is this. To what extent is New York magazine taking advantage of Gitty by featuring her story in this way?

    Her custody battle is still ongoing, and there is no question that the publicity in this article cannot help her case; nor can it do anything to help her relationship with her former husband or give him any sort of incentive to come to an agreement with her. Her new lifestyle - including experimenting with drugs - is  revealed openly. Some of the pictures of Gitty in the article - such as the one of her changing into her 'Chassidic' outfit - may be artistic, but are not exactly modest. And her language, speaking of her former husband and community, is not very diplomatic. How exactly is any of this in Gitty's interests, while her daughter's fate is still being decided?

    Throughout the article, Gitty, still only 23, is portrayed as extremely unworldly and sheltered. She is unfamiliar with basic aspects of secular culture, has no qualifications or job prospects - she can't even get a job as a waitress. I can understand that she may have had many reasons for wanting to tell her story - desperation over her daughter; emotional venting; perhaps even revenge, of sorts. But it seems to me that doing so, in such a public forum, is just another aspect of her dreadful naivete.

    Even if it is too much to expect New York magazine to turn away such a great (and apparently willingly told) story, it is a shame no one - her lawyer? her friends? - stopped her, for her own good.