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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘funds’

Impurity, Heresy, and Immorality

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Although purity and impurity figure as essential dimensions of Judaism and Jewish law, the truth is that without the Beis HaMikdash we have little connection to the world of tahor and tameh, the pure and impure.

We have ritual washing of hands and we have the mikveh, but essentially we all remain in a state of ritual impurity.

It seems we have found a substitute, though, focusing instead on ideological purity and impurity. In recent years especially, we have seen members of the Orthodox community seeking to identify and root out heresy – whether suspected, imagined, or genuine.

We have seen this in efforts to ban books and label people as standing outside the camp. There has been particular anxiety over the “left” boundary of Orthodoxy. (Interestingly, there has not been a similar worry over heresy on the “right” boundary, despite the fact that some of what passes for basic Yiddishkeit on that end of the spectrum seems contrary to what we find in sources from Pirkei Avos through the Rambam.)

We have seen a similar focus on what we might call genetic purity and impurity, observable in heightened suspicion of and hostility to potential converts and even to people years or decades after their conversion. We have heard increasing talk of the “Jewish neshamah,” as if it is some genetic or otherwise essential aspect of our souls that makes us different from (and, in some unclear sense, “better” than) non-Jews.

The alternative perspective is that the souls of Jews and non-Jews do not differ; rather, Jews have been chosen to bear a special responsibility in this world, to be a “light unto the nations.”

What is most striking, however, is not simply the current concern with ideological heresy and impurity but the increasing passion and panic with which it has been expressed. The language and actions are strong, such as concerted efforts to push rabbis out of the Rabbinical Council of America. And the freedom of the Internet has made the “exposure” of alleged heresy easier; one only has to browse some of the comment threads on Orthodox websites to see the vitriol and unkindness expressed, often anonymously, by so many.

What happens when we step back and take a broader view of the concerns and rhetoric in the Orthodox world? It seems the most excited and passionate voices, among both centrist and right-wing groups, target ideological heresy, as if that were the greatest threat. But might we not say that the greatest threat is ethical impurity?

Why have we not mobilized with a greater or at least similar zeal to root out wrongdoing, to push people out of the Orthodox camp for corruption and criminal activity, for extortion and misuse of funds, for verbal and physical intimidation and violence?

The cynical answer, perhaps, is that we do not see morality as a matter of purity and impurity; that someone who is born Jewish and maintains proper ritual practice but engages in corruption has no lack of purity, whereas someone who is absolutely upright in his or her relationships and business dealings but whose beliefs are on the edge is an impure heretic.

Is there nothing wrong with this picture? Why are crime and corruption not considered a sort of heresy in themselves, a kind of denial of the Torah and its precepts?

Let us consider the reasons for the destruction of the two Temples: the first for the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality, and idol worship; the second for sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Are these matters of ritual purity and impurity? Not really. Maybe one could argue that sexual immorality falls, in part, into such a category. Are they matters of ideological purity and impurity? Well, for idol worship, yes. Are they matters of moral purity and impurity? With the possible exception of idol worship, certainly.

When the prophets railed against the people, did they do so because of incorrect beliefs or because of corruption and immorality?

We lost our Temples largely due to ethical failure. Not heresy, but immorality. And yet today, when we claim to mourn our ongoing exile and the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, how do we direct our passion, our anxiety, our anger?

Sen. Leahy: Obama Secretly Suspended Egypt Military Aid

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), head of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, told The Daily Beast that military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off.

“[Senator Leahy’s] understanding is that aid to the Egyptian military has been halted, as required by law,” said David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy.

If it’s done as required by law, why is the U.S. government keeping it a secret that it believes the regime change in Egypt was a military coup? If it is, indeed, temporarily suspending most of the military aid to Egypt, where is the public announcement that we don’t send money to governments that were installed by a coup?

After skewering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard—through the good services of the NY Times—for his attempts to preserve stability in Egypt and the integrity of the peace treaty, now the administration is attempting to punish the naughty Egyptian generals, but without making a big deal out of it.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked on Monday about the suspended aid, and told reporters the aid is not officially suspended.

I suppose the Egyptians can use the officially unsuspended aid money the same way Israelis can live in the officially unfrozen homes in East Jerusalem…

“After sequestration withholding, approximately $585 million remains unobligated. So, that is the amount that is unobligated,” Psaki said.

I looked up “unobligated” and means funds that have been appropriated but remain uncommitted by contract at the end of a fiscal period. In other words, an I keep, you don’t get kind of relationship.

“But it would be inaccurate to say that a policy decision has been made with respect to the remaining assistance funding,” Psaki clarified.

In other words, I keep, you don’t get, but it’s not forever.

The Daily Beast quotes two Administration officials who explain it was the government lawyers who decided it would be more prudent to observe the law restricting military aid in case of a coup, while not making a public statement that a coup had taken place.

Bret Stephens, a deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote on Monday (A Policy on Egypt—Support Al Sisi):

“What’s realistic and desirable is for the military to succeed in its confrontation with the Brotherhood as quickly and convincingly as possible. Victory permits magnanimity. It gives ordinary Egyptians the opportunity to return to normal life. It deters potential political and military challenges. It allows the appointed civilian government to assume a prominent political role. It settles the diplomatic landscape. It lets the neighbors know what’s what.”

By taking the opposite approach, making it harder for the new Egyptian government to bring the internal conflict to a conclusion, the Obama Administration is promoting and prolonging chaos in yet another country. Which is why, I suspect, Senator Leahy has spoken to the Daily Beast in the first place, to stop this blind march over the cliff.

Middle East analyst Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress, told the Beast he thought the Administration was “trying to maintain maximum flexibility,” but he suggested that this horse is long out of the barn. “Egypt’s struggle has become so intense, polarized, and violent, and I worry that no matter what move the United States makes now, the competing power centers in Egypt might continue down the dangerous course they’ve headed.”

Unless, of course, the U.S. is making clear, with loud noises and a light show, that it supports stability in Egypt, and in order to hasten new elections, it will not suspend military aid to Egypt. In fact, with its financial and military might, the U.S. will do everything it can to restore stability and democracy in Egypt.

But that would require President Obama to get over the insult of the Egyptian nation ignoring his wishes and dethroning his favorite Muslim Brother president.

A Call to Action: Shut Down the Claims Conference

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

By Naomi Vilko, MD

Many Jewish Americans are unaware not only of the sordid behavior of the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany); they are also unaware of its existence and mission. Established in 1951, the Claims Conference has the tasks of negotiating for compensation and restitution for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and of distributing payments from the German government to individual Jewish Holocaust survivors and the social services agencies that serve them.

Shamefully, $57.3 million intended for survivors was stolen from the Claims Conference by 31 people – 11 of them employees – over 16 years. [For more information, please read Isi Leibler’s numerous articles covering the Claims Conference scandal on his blog.] Now, influential Jews including Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress and Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel have insisted upon an independent investigation into the Claims Conference fraud as well as a change in its leadership and governance. I am grateful to Rabbi Mark Golub of Shalom TV, Isi Leibler of The Jerusalem Post and staff writers from The Jewish Daily Forward and The Jewish Week who have been following the Claims Conference scandal and pressing for justice for the survivors. I hope that we can mobilize the Jewish community to quickly close this corrupt agency and transfer the funds to another agency who will distribute them in time to help those in need.

Many Holocaust survivors have not received compensation for their suffering and losses because for some of these aging victims, the process is simply too painful; others have not received compensation because the Claims Conference is at best, difficult and obstructionist, and at worst, corrupt. Claims Conference officials have also continued to expand the definition of “Jewish victim of Nazi persecution”. Today, it administers programs providing funds not just to those who survived ghettos, concentration camps, forced labor battalions and death marches, but to anyone who fled Nazi invasion, lived in hiding, or lived under curfew. As a Psychiatrist specializing in trauma, I am well aware that it is difficult to tease out the quantitative and qualitative differences between different traumatic experiences – but I am certain that those who survived concentration camps (the youngest of whom are in their 80s) should receive assistance immediately and without the frustration of dealing with the uncaring staff of the Claims Conference and its various agencies.

My mother and I have dealt with the issue of reparations since my father, a survivor of 5 concentration camps, death marches, Hungarian forced labor and a ghetto, died suddenly in 1962. My father was denied any compensation. As his widow and a survivor herself, my mother appealed, but the appeals were denied. Recently, I again contacted several Jewish agencies in a futile attempt to assist my now 92-year-old mother with paying for her home-care. I was astounded to learn that if she only needed assistance 20 hours/week, she would receive funds, but since she requires 24-hour assistance (which she pays for herself) she will receive nothing to defray the expense. We were advised that she could go on Medicaid and/or be sent to a nursing home.

Jewish social agencies are doing the best they can to help survivors, but they say that they have limited funds. After helping themselves to large salaries and allowing fraud to persist under their noses for over a decade, is it any surprise that the Claims Conference does not have enough funds for the survivors it “claims” to serve? Furthermore, while it is commendable in theory for the Claims Conference to work to expand eligibility for these funds, I must ask: if there is not enough money available to help the survivors who have already been identified, what is the result of such efforts beyond making the bread lines longer?

It is an outrage and an embarrassment that the Claims Conference has continued to operate without oversight, even after failing in its responsibility to adequately investigate and prosecute the fraud for so many years. We must shut down the Claims Conference and transfer the funds to an existing agency, such as the Jewish Federation or the World Jewish Congress that can quickly prioritize the way funds are distributed to survivors. We have an obligation to take care of those who have been tortured and enslaved because they are Jewish – before it’s too late.

There are many survivors who have no children to care for or advocate for them and who live isolated lives in apartments with no services and little human contact. My hope is that raising awareness of the additional psychological trauma survivors experience as a result of the reparations and compensation processes and, specifically, the New York based Claims Conference itself, may lead the Jewish people to take action. Let’s face it: The Jewish people have not adequately taken care of the survivors, who are now extremely elderly and dying. They are entitled to live the last years of their lives with dignity.

Israel: The Natural Gas and Start Up Nation

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

1.  “The flow of natural gas from Israel’s Tamar reservoir in the Mediterranean to the Ashdod reception facility was inaugurated on March 30, 2013, ushering in a new era in Israel’s energy sector [led by the Houston-based Noble Energy]. Israel will not only become independent in being able to supply its own energy needs, but it is likely to become an energy exporter as its maritime gas fields are further developed…. The amount of gas discovered offshore now dwarfs any feasible, projected Israeli demand for at least half a century….Israel will become a net exporter of gas….Europe would seem to be the natural export market for Israeli gas….Yet Asia may emerge as Israel’s preferred export destination. The Australian firm, Woodside, which acquired about a third of the rights to the Leviathan field, is oriented toward marketing gas in Asia, and envisions building a liquefaction plant to service that trade….Israel will view with apprehension any scheme to anchor its critical infrastructure in countries beyond its own borders, such as Jordan, Cyprus, or Turkey….” (Dr. David Wurmser, April 4, 2013).

2. Hewlett-Packard (HP) is the second largest investor – trailing Intel – in Israel’s information technology sector, with 6,000 employees.  HP’s Israel-developed products carry the Indigo and Scitetx Vision brands (Southeast-Israel Business News, March, 2013).

3.  The Chicago-based AllScripts acquired Israel’s dbMotion for $235MN (Globes Business Daily, March 6, 2013).

4.   The globe’s largest biotech company, Roche of Basel, Switzerland, concluded a joint venture with Israel’s Chiasma, developing and commercializing Chiasma’s Octreolin for acromegaly and neuroendocrine tumors. Roche received a worldwide exclusive license in return for an upfront payment of $65MN and additional $530MN in milestones and royalties (Globes, February 19).

5.  Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) and Israel’s Amdocs are establishing a joint development center in Israel.  Amdocs operates a similar center with AT&T.  SingTel intends to invest in a few Israeli start-ups, following its acquisition – in March 2012 – of Israel’s Amobee for $321MN (Globes, March 4).  Germany’s global optical giant, Zeiss, is establishing a research and development center in Israel.  Five years ago, it acquired Israel’s Pixer (Yedioth Achronot daily, April 4).  Michael Dell’s MSD Capital invested $22MN in Israel’s food chain, Rami Levy, increasing its holding to 6.1%.  The Boston-based Fidelity acquired 5% of Rami Levy for $27MN (Globes, March 29 and April 8).

6.  Hong Kong’s investment mogul, Li Ka Shing’s Horizon Ventures, led an$ 8MN round of private placement by Israel’s Nipendo (Globes, March 12).  The Waltham, MA-based Battery Ventures – joined by the Menlo Park, CA-based Opus Capital - led a $10MN second round by Israel’s SiSense (Globes, April 4). The Menlo Park-based Sequoia Capital – joined by T-Mobile – led an $11MN round by Israel’s Innovid (Globes, March 8).  Israel’s StarCom raised $4MN at the London  Stock Exchange for smaller companies, AIM (March 6).

Visit The Ettinger Report.

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