Miriam Shaviv

  • UN sucks up to Iran

    Apr 30, 2010

    While we're all sitting back, waiting for the UN to impose sanctions on Iran, that august body has elected Iran onto its Commission for the Status of Women, which is supposedly ""dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women".

    Meanwhile, in other news this week,

    Iran has warned suntanned women and girls who looked like "walking mannequins" will be arrested as part of a new drive to enforce the Islamic dress code...

    The announcement came shortly after Ayatollah Kazim Sadighi, a leading cleric, warned that women who dressed immodestly disturbed young men and the consequent agitation caused earthquakes.

    At least they didn't elect Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China to the Human Right Council. No, hold on, they've already done that.

  • Sandra Bullock gives her son a 'bris'

    Apr 29, 2010

    Sandra Bullock - who is not Jewish - has told People magazine that her adopted son Louis had a "bris", soon after  he was adopted in January:

    A friend of ours helped arrange for a bris at the house, because we couldn't go [to a hospital for the procedure]. The mohel [a person trained in the practice] came to us. You have never seen adults more panicked about what was about to happen to their son, but the celebration and the amount of love we felt and the pride in the little man whom we love so, so much became the greatest moment I have ever had in my life.

    Penance, perhaps, for her husband (soon to be ex-husband) Jesse James's Nazi obsession?

    UPDATE: I am reminded that a few years ago, there was a trend of non-Jewish kids celebrating 'faux barmitzvahs'. Are we going to witness the rise of 'faux bris celebrations'? Somehow I doubt it.

  • Goldstone: the UN Human Rights Council is 'hopeless'

    Apr 29, 2010

    The New Republic is running a thorough account of the internal row over Israel at Human Rights Watch, which culminated in founder Robert Bernstein accusing the organisation of being anti-Israel in the New York Times last October.

    Most of it has been covered before - and is totally damning. But it included one particularly interesting paragraph, new to me at least:

    Bernstein also raised some of his concerns with then-HRW board member Richard Goldstone, who would go on to write the U.N.’s much-maligned report on the Gaza war. There are few more reviled figures in Israel right now than Goldstone, but even he sympathized with Bernstein on certain points, such as the politicized nature of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which, after being created in 2006, had directed its first nine condemnations at Israel.

    In March 2008, barely a year before he accepted UNHRC’s mandate to investigate the Gaza war, he told Bernstein that he thought the body’s performance had been hopeless and expressed ambivalence as to whether HRW should continue appearing before it. He also agreed with Bernstein that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s increasingly aggressive anti-Israel rhetoric, in combination with his threatening policies, was an issue worthy of HRW’s attention. Goldstone pushed Roth to address it, but to no avail.

    If this is true (and I guess we only have Bernstein's word for it), it significantly strengthens the case of those who claim that Judge Goldstone was acting totally cynically, abandoning his true positions on Israel (and according to this, the UN Human Rights Council) in order to advance his own career.

  • J-Street Europe to launch next week

    Apr 28, 2010

    Next Monday in Brussels, a European group modelling itself on J Street will be launched. The first action of 'J Call' (subtitle: 'European Jewish call for reason') will be to present a petition criticising Israeli government policy to the European Parliament.

    You can read the document here. The statement itself does not seem terribly controversial; it calls for Europe to apply pressure to 'both parties' and it calls for an end to settlements in 'Arab districts of East Jerusalem' (presumably, then, they support building in Ramat Shlomo, with its 20,000 Jews?).

    I do wonder, though, how the lawmakers presented with these statements will interpret them. I suspect they will jump on the elements critical of Israel and miss the balance.

    Just what kind of effect this group will have remains to be seen. But it has enormous potential. First, a much larger percentage of European Jews than American Jews probably support J Street-type positions; there is a big gap in the market for Jews who do not want to support IJV, but are nonetheless left-of-centre and eager for some activism.

    In addition, in the US, J Street was meant to counterbalance the powerful Aipac lobby, which is supportive of the Israeli government, and was always going to be the younger, smaller, less influential rival. In Europe, there is no similar lobby to Aipac, certainly not at the EU level, potentially giving J Call quite a lot of influence, quickly, if it is successful.

    Will this be good for European Jewry? Presumably, many on the left will feel empowered, while many on the right will feel threatened. You can expect the tone of communal debate surrounding Israel to become even harsher than it currently is.

    All eyes on Brussels on Monday then...

  • Should Israel ban the burka?

    Apr 28, 2010

    According to the Jerusalem Post, MK Marina Solodkin is going to introduce a bill that would ban full-body and and face coverings for women.

    The Post makes a persuasive case for supporting the bill - read its editorial here. But it makes too little of the phenomenon of Jewish women (at least 100, not a dozen or two, as it claims) taking on the veil. These sad cases - which I have written about extensively - further illustrate why the burka should be outlawed.

    The 'frumkas' - as they became known - were first adopted by a mentally ill woman, Bruria Keren, later convicted of abusing her children. Despite what she said, covering up her face (and wearing multiple layers of clothing) was not a religious issue; it was a mental health issue.

    Now, let's be clear - I am not saying this is the case for everyone who takes on the burka. But that was its root in Israel.

    The practice was quickly copied by over 100 women who considered Bruria Keren to be a holy woman. Nobody forced them; however, she clearly convinced these gullible and needy women that the ideal for a woman was not to be seen in public (and not even to be heard - she used to stop talking for days on end). Negating themselves, she was telling them, making themselves invisible, was the height of frumkeit, while in fact it has no basis whatsoever in halachah. 

    Even her imprisonment has not been enough to change the behaviour of her followers, who remain loyal to her, and who knows how many more women have adopted this mode of dress in the meantime (one was arrested a few weeks back when attempting to board a bus; she was mistaken for a terrorist).

    Other Charedi women were terrified by this development. They clearly understood two things: that the trend in the Charedi world was increasingly towards 'hyper-modesty' and erasing women from public spaces; and that despite the revulsion expressed by most Charedi men, stringencies tend to spread like wildfire and even crazy things can quickly become the norm.

    The Israeli-Jewish experience, then, shows clearly how burkas can be used to entrench the victimisation of poor, vulnerable women. And the majority of women are terrified that they are going to end up coerced, effectively, into wearing one by societal forces greater than themselves.

    In Israel this hasn't happened yet. But that is why a public statement that society will not abide either the burka or the frumka would be a good thing, now, before this phenomenon spreads any further.

  • Hamas's code of ethics

    Apr 27, 2010

    According to this story ,

    Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar on Monday night criticized an animated video released by the group’s military wing which depicted Gilad Schalit returning to Israel in a coffin, saying Hamas “would never kill a captured Israeli soldier.”

    I love the indignant tone (as I read it). Hamas might blow up innocent civilians in bomb attacks, throw its opponents off roofs, shell entire areas of Israel's south for months and years at end... but kill a captured soldier!? That would be immoral!

    That's gangster ethics for you.

  • Tory plans for schools 'most interesting idea of this election'

    Apr 23, 2010

    Last week I wrote about how the Conservatives' school policy would benefit Jewish schools - specifically, allowing parents and other interested groups to open more schools in areas where there is demand, quickly and with state funding straight away.

    The Economist now has a comprehensive piece on the Tory plans for the education system - which it says may be "the most interesting idea in this election":

    Labour’s manifesto still talks about parent power. In their version, parental ballots could be held and local-government officials would have to sack head teachers or hand schools over to be run by more successful ones, if that was what parents said they wanted. But it adds up to very little. Real parent-power is what the Tories are proposing, in their plan to let parents set up brand new state-funded schools. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all run their own schools, so the Tories’ writ would run only in England.)

    Will it work? The evidence from other countries is broadly positive. Swedes in general approve of their new schools, and the parents who patronise them are satisfied too: nine in ten say they are happy with their children’s education, compared with under two-thirds of parents with children at state-run schools. Studies have found that they have better results, and also spur improvements in nearby state-run schools. The system as a whole responds better to parents’ wishes, too: if local authorities try to close a much-loved small rural school, parents simply apply to open their own one. When officials realise that the hoped-for efficiency savings will not materialise, they back down...

    Many worry that the Tories’ plans, for all their benefits for the middle-class, would offer little to the downtrodden. The Conservatives counter by saying that the new schools would have to abide by the old admissions rules, with no interviewing of applicants and no preference for able students. International evidence is reassuring. A study in Sweden in 2003 found no indication that low-earning parents were less likely to pick free schools than richer ones. America’s charter-schools are mostly in deprived areas, and most of the pupils they teach are black and poor.

    Read the whole thing here.

  • Political correctness gone mad

    Apr 22, 2010

    A letter jaw-dropping in its stupidity, in this week's JC:

    Miriam Shaviv, [JC April 9] wrote: "US President Barack Obama has confirmed that he is a bully, responding aggressively to weakness and snubbing allies while kowtowing to dictators and rogues."

    I, and many other Jews, have a very different view. We regard President Obama as a reasonable and far sighted man who, because of the weight that he carries in the "Arab street" offers Israel a unique chance of making a peace settlement that might actually stick.

    But my argument with Shaviv is not so much what she says as the way she says it. At least one group of people in British society would, I believe, find her remarks almost personally insulting.

    I am a Jewish broadcaster working on a radio station which has a largely black management and listenership, I wonder if Shaviv truly appreciates the enormous esteem in which Obama is held in this community. His astonishing rise against the odds has been theirs too.

    The JC has an influence much wider than that of its Jewish readership. So, if Jewish/black relations matter, Shaviv might be advised to use more judicious language in future. I am not suggesting that she should not be as critical of American policy as she feels she needs to be. But to be personally insulting is careless and unwise. This is not about censorship; it is about common sense and a sensitivity towards the feelings of others.

    Richard Phillips

    So, according to Mr Phillips, Jews cannot criticise Barack Obama personally because it will offend black people.  Perhaps we should also avoid criticising Mr Brown because it might offend Scots, and Mr Cameron because it might offend toffs? Really.

    Unfortunately, Mr Phillips falls into a category which is becoming increasingly common: do-gooders making ridiculous demands on behalf of a minority to which they do not belong, doing more harm than good.

    The classic example is of the many liberals, here and in the US, who make it their business to demand that shops do not put up signs wishing customers 'Merry Christmas' in December, because it might offend Jews or Muslims. I can't recall ever hearing from a Jew or Muslim who actually cares.

  • The American love affair with Jonathan Sacks continues

    Apr 21, 2010

    Lord Sacks's chances of bagging a major post in New York when he chooses to end his term as Chief Rabbi just got a major boost, with a rave review of his latest American trip appearing in this week's NY Jewish Week. The author is the paper's editor, Gary Rosenblatt:

    Listening to British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks deliver a positive message of Jewish survival and triumph at Lincoln Square Synagogue on Shabbat, and observing the enthusiastic, attentive overflow crowds at each of his three presentations, helped strengthen the impression for me that he has emerged as the leading voice of Modern Orthodoxy and religious Zionism in the world.

    Not a leading voice, mind; the leading voice.

    Chief Rabbi Sacks is due back in New York next month, his third visit in as many months.

  • An inappropriate Holocaust memorial?

    Apr 21, 2010

    Two descendants of a woman who survived Auschwitz have decided to commemorate her suffering in an unusual way: by having her camp number tattooed on their own arms.

    "The idea to tattoo grandma's number from Auschwitz has been in my mind for a few years," said Daniel Philosof, from Ramat Yishai. "Grandma's stories from the concentration camps were part of my life and always will be. The connection I feel to my grandmother is immense and the tattoo is a way of making that real... The memorial on my body will ensure that we will never forget what happened." (My translation - MS)

    He got the tattoo together with his uncle, Oded Rabak from Canada.

    Leaving aside halachic questions about tattooing, is this a good idea?

    I was initially against. In the first draft of this blog post, I wrote: 

    Clearly, these gentlemen (and this survivor's son, who did the same thing in 2008) are, in a sense, reclaiming the Auschwitz tattoos and turning them into something they control, even something positive - much as African-Americans reclaimed the 'n-word' and Jews reclaimed the slur 'Yid'. But by putting the number on their arm, it is still something by which they are being defined. Do we really want Hitler to be so utterly central to our identity, his actions to be literally engraved onto our bodies? For how long are we to define ourselves primarily in relation to Hitler, as his victims?

    Writing those words, however, it occured to me that for these second- and third-generation survivors, Hitler and his actions are perhaps already  "utterly central to [their] identity", in a way that I - who had no direct ancestors killed in the Holocaust (though many more distant relatives) - simply cannot appreciate. What might have been a grotesque and provocative gesture coming from a random Jew takes on a different meaning coming from a child or grandchild of a survivor. Perhaps this is just a physical expression of something they already feel emotionally or mentally, anyway.

    What do you think?

    FYI - the grandson is yet to tell his grandmother that he has had her number tattooed on his forearm "in order not to upset her".