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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

J.E. Dyer: Tumultus Post-Americanus

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

You’d think they could wait until America has decided if we really intend to be post-American.  I mean, what’s President Obama going to do about Iran and Syria – get Qatar to bomb them?  Does that really require a regional-war-scale response from Russia?  And what about the South China Sea?  It’s not like our new Marine contingent in Australia can do anything about China’s strong-arming of the other nations there.  Nor does there seem to be much likelihood that we will react to Russia’s chest-thumping in the disputed Kuril Islands north of Japan.  And when I say “react,” I mean “react at all.”  For all the president’s new focus on the Pacific, we don’t seem to have any positions we intend to actually enunciate there, much less defend.

The Tumultus Post-Americanus is now well underway.  The US and NATO, and our Pacific allies Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines, have tremendous latent power, but the American leadership to focus this power for strategic purposes has gone missing.  There is no initiative on our collective part – we have done nothing but react in the last three years – and possibly even less appreciation of how the world is changing.  The forms of international discourse – the processes of the UN, the G-8 and G-20, the IMF – are being adhered to now because they are a convenience, not because they produce anything useful.  They are brittle relics of a peace that no longer has a core and is waiting to be breached by regional initiative.

Hiatus, for now

My sense today is that nothing is about to “break.”  I believe those who sense otherwise misread the dynamics of the current situation.  There is no unified actor – either a nation or a movement; e.g., Islamism – in a position today to prosecute an abruptly transformative, offensive campaign on the model of predatory Marxist-Leninism or the outright-conquest methods of Adolf Hitler.  The nations of today all know this – even Iran’s mullahs.

Russia and China are both acting under the compulsions of their traditional geopolitical motives; as important as American power is in their calculations, they are at least as concerned about each other.  They cannot escape their neighborhood.  Right now, Russia’s actions are, to the Russian mind, wholly defensive.  China hopes to enlarge her base of invulnerable power by controlling the sea- and tradeways around her perimeter, and staking out power outposts in Central and South Asia and Africa.  China sees a watershed opportunity; Russia sees a loss of stasis and a rise of Islamism, and seeks to prepare for whatever that’s going to do to her, in part by reclaiming territory she feels vulnerable and disrespected without (e.g., Georgia).

The decisive factor for political Islam – Islam focused through the lens of ideology on politics and the nation-state – is still its internal competition.  Saudi Arabia and Iran have led separate factions for decades.  But now an economically and militarily resurgent Turkey is seeking to put her own stamp on Islamist geopolitical leadership.  And Egypt – a very large, populous, and educated nation, long held in a neutral stance by Mubarak’s effectively secular regime – appears to have entered the sweepstakes with the election of Mohammed Morsi.  Some Western pundits are waiting for the Egyptian military to drop the hammer on Morsi, but I am not sanguine about that possibility.  Erdogan’s Turkey, where the traditionally moderating political power of the military has been broken in the last 3-4 years, looms as an example to the region.  It will take some time, as it has in Turkey, but Egypt will probably emerge as a nation-state competitor to Turkey, and she is likely to do it by emulating Erdogan’s methods.

The Muslim Brotherhood itself is boresighted on Jerusalem, but the path to that “victory” remains uncertain.  Egypt, for all her geographic advantages, may not be the most obvious launching pad.  Syria, which has been in Iran’s orbit for a long time, is a great strategic prize in the race to Jerusalem, both geographically and politically.  Most political happenings in the Middle East right now are centered on the jockeying process for leadership of the Islamist geopolitical movement.

No one in this mix is ready right now for the fading global stasis to entirely fall apart.  It serves their interests for the stasis to continue and hold their competitors in check.  But within the constraints of the old stasis, they – especially Russia and China, but also India, Iran, and other affected nations – are making military preparations.

J.E. Dyer: Russia, Iran Standing Off from Obama Showcase Events

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Vladimir Putin decided not to attend the recent NATO summit in Chicago – although probably not out of petty pique at our president.  Regardless of his sentiments about Obama, he would have attended if he had thought it was in his interest to do so.   Now Iran has abruptly ended the scheduled talks on her nuclear program in Baghdad, affirming no interest in continuing this round without some lightening of sanctions up front.  The next round of talks is to be held in Moscow.

If they occur, as promised, in June – before the US election – the most likely outcome is more stalling and no progress.  But that is not because there has been no prior interest on the Western side in making big concessions in order to get an agreement.  What Iran is doing actually amounts to avoiding being presented with a favorable agreement.  The abruptness of the talks’ end indicates mostly that Iran doesn’t see it as advantageous to stick around and talk anymore, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the P5+1’s anxiety to negotiate a good deal for Iran.

As for Putin, his proximate reason for not attending the summit is obvious.  Missile defense was – as always, over the last decade – to be one of the two main topics in Chicago, the other being Afghanistan.  The collective NATO missile defense system for Europe was to be declared operational at the summit.  It was.  Russia’s main bone of contention with NATO is missile defense.  Although Russia has been invited to be a missile defense partner with NATO, and has participated in extensive talks on the matter, there remain fundamental disagreements between the parties over how to operate and orient a collective missile defense.

Putin had no intention of being present for photo ops under a “NATO missile defense” banner – in spite of President Obama’s assurance to Dmitry Medvedev that the US would be more “flexible” about the whole thing after our November election.  Putin’s reluctance is partly because Obama’s NATO allies have a different view.  They aren’t interested at all in more “flexibility”:  the Europeans, in their own special way, have actually been quite stringent on the need for missile defense, determined to go ahead with it for political purposes if not for the capabilities of the inaugural system.  The initial capability relies entirely on US Aegis warships being stationed in the Black Sea or Eastern Mediterranean, along with an early warning radar in Turkey whose data the Turks – against NATO policy – don’t want shared with Israel.  The vulnerabilities of this initial set-up are obvious, but for the Europeans, the point is the show of commitment.

Writing at NRO earlier this month, Daniel Vajdic assessed Putin as increasingly detached from reality.  I’m not so sure it’s Putin who’s in that condition.

If Greece leaves the Eurozone rather than staying in and swallowing some very nasty-tasting medicine, who will come to Greece’s aid?  The door will be open to Russia, in a way it wasn’t in 2010 when reports abounded that Russia offered Greece a 25-billion-Euro loan, but was rejected by the Greek leadership due to opposition from the EU and US.  Russia is already keeping Cyprus afloat, and has for centuries had a national interest in maintaining the principal geopolitical influence over Southeastern Europe.  Russia and Greece have begun a significant naval rapprochement – but that’s not the only rapprochement going on between the two Orthodox Christian nations.  Russian businessmen promised in September 2011 that Russian investment in Greece would be increasing dramatically, a credible promise given the level of investment Russia (and China) already had in Greek infrastructure.  As the Eurozone crisis rages – literally, at this exact moment – the second Greece-Russia Investment Conference is unfolding on the island of Evia.

The leaders of Europe have a problem.  If they effectively force Greece out – a move that would be understandable from a fiscal and monetary perspective – they will have to outbid Russia if they want to turn around and buy Greece back.  The implications for NATO are as uncertain as anything else.  A NATO missile defense, opposed by Russia and relying on the nations and waterways around Greece?  America has to be acting like the alpha dog to make that one work.

Israel and Japan Celebrate 60 Years of Diplomatic Relations

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Israel and Japan celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations on Tuesday, kicking off a series of special events commemorating the occasion.  On May 21, the Israeli embassy in Tokyo will stage a special gala concert marking the occasion, joining the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra with leading Israeli musicians.

In 2011, bilateral trade between the countries totaled $3.3 billion.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted the “Japanese contribution to stability in our region,” including Japanese military forces deployed with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan, Japanese financial support for the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) deployed in Sinai, and Japanese investment in a Peace Corridor agro-industrial park being developed near Jericho with the partnership of Jordan, and in coordination with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Japan FM: Japan Ready to Cut Iran Oil Imports

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Japan pledged to take “concrete” action to reduce the amount of Iranian oil imports, Finance Minister Jun Azumi said  in a press conference Thursday with his counterpart,  US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

“What I told the secretary is that we have already reduced Iranian oil imports by 40% in the past five years,” Azumi said. “The nuclear development issue is an issue that the international community cannot overlook, so we very much understand the U.S. action.”

Azumi gave no details regarding the timeline of the planned cuts.

Geithner welcomed the  increased cooperation, especially in light of China’s rebuff of a similar appeal by the US earlier in the week.

 

The Sirota Family and the 20th Century at the Japan Society

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I am blessed to live in a tradition filled with many incredible people, but it is rare I actually have the chance to meet a hero.  I give sincere thanks to the Japan Society for honoring a great Jewish woman, Beate Sirota Gordon.  A distinguished lady who wrote the equality clause of the new Japanese constitution, Ms. Gordon is also the scion of an illustrious musical family whose tree is traced in the movie, The Sirota Family and the 20th Century.  As Ms. Gordon herself said, although her father has been a half-century in the grave, the director of the film fell in love with him. While Leo Sirota, her father, could obviously not be interviewed; his music is played throughout, giving him a voice in the film that shows the depths of his passion of music. It is fair to say the audience fell in love with Sirota as well.

Having a distinct love for the Japanese culture, due to their excellent literature, and being fiercely proud of my Judaism, I could not imagine a more perfect evening.  The Japan Society is a beautiful building, tucked away by Dag Hammarskjold Square, a place I had visited so many times to protest the UN.  I was very pleased to be there for a less stressful reason. From the indoor water garden to the elegant pictures on the wall, the place seems to be a quiet oasis in a very busy city. Given the emotions I knew I would feel watching a Holocaust film, I found myself feeling strangely at peace and calm. It was a perfect place to watch the movie and I hope there will be more joint Jewish-Japanese events in the future.

Both the family and the film begin in Kamianets-Podilskyi during the time period in which Ms. Gordon’s grandparents lived. Each member of the Sirota family has been blessed with an incredible gift for music. Although they endure persecution and pogroms, they continue to attend some of the most prestigious schools of music from Kiev to St. Petersberg to Paris, performing and teaching wherever they went. Leo Sirota tours the world with his music and finds himself being offered a job in the most unlikely (and non-Jewish) place – Japan. Unfortunately, their lives and the lives of the people around them are shattered when the Nazis come to power.

Ms. Gordon talks painfully of her memories of being taught to Seig Heil at the beginning of every class, of being twelve-years-old and ostracized by those around her.  An uncle perished in Auschwitz and a cousin was killed fighting in World War II. Ms. Gordon herself was in America studying at Mills College and spent years having limited conversation with and information about her parents.

     After the war ended, the twenty-two-year old Ms. Sirota joined the Occupation force in Japan as a translator, as she was one of the sixty-five Caucasians who were fluent in Japanese. Her previous experience at Time Magazine had taught her how to gather information and therefore, she was able to do the research required to assist in writing the Japanese constitution. Although the project was top secret, Ms. Gordon sneaked in to gather as much information as possible while sneaking in a few novels in order to make sure no librarians caught on to her ruse. She was instrumental in making the constitution of Japan strive for a more equal and better place for everyone, including women.

Throughout the movie, I was amazed at the strength of the Jewish people, who have given so much to such a terrible world. This is the heritage of a people who have survived and thrived and embraced the title of “chosen” by contributing wonderfully to every society where they have found themselves as refugees.  What an honor to have the Japanese cultural society honoring the contributions of our people.  When talking about fixing the world, this is where it starts.

Ms. Gordon may be elderly, but she is still taking on the world. She talks about the pride she feels in the Japanese making war illegal in the constitution, “forever renounce(ing) war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” She speaks as a grandmother who hopes to see that amendment ratified in every single country, as another world war would end the world, as we know it.  In the stress I have been feeling with the developments in the Middle East, I very much doubt that such an amendment would work, but it is a dream well worth having.

At the reception after the movie, I felt a bit overwhelmed to be the youngest person in the room and mingled accordingly, trying to sound sophisticated and praying no one would send me back to the children’s table. I was honored to actually speak with Ms. Gordon and tell her how much I shared her dream of seeing war banned. “I am not an expert on the subject,” Ms. Gordon said modestly. “But it’s the only hope we have.”

Fried Banana Chips

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

It was a chilly Shabbos morning in 1984 when my friend, a pearl importer, and I were walking up the long steep road to the hilltop synagogue in Kobe, Japan.

When we finally reached the flat street on top of the hill, I was out of breath. There was a feeling of joy and accomplishment when the shul came into view. Only 50 more feet to go!

The two of us completed the minyan, which was composed of Kobe resident foreign exporters and New York pearl importers. The credit for getting 10 Jews together from all over the Kobe, Osaka and Tokyo areas went to the local Syrian religious leader, Rav Yoseph Gamliel. To accomplish this feat, Rav Gamliel must have had spies in every hotel lobby in Japan!

The shul’s outstanding architectural features included a beautiful green marble floor and brass-laced mechitzah. The Sefer Torah was kept in a decorative metallic encasement. The credit for building the shul went to Jewish Iraqi-Afghani businessmen, which accounted for its Sephardic flavor.

After the morning service, the community invited us to a simple, tasty kiddush. There were three long, linen-covered tables set with large bowls of tuna salad, egg salad, potato salad and small bottles of grape juice. According to the shul’s custom, the participants related their names, where they were from, and their mission in Kobe. We all got to know one another, which resulted in a warm Shabbos tisch.

A very distinguished gray-bearded rabbi sat at the head of the table. He introduced himself as Rabbi Berel Levy. He wished everyone a good Shabbos, and explained that he was a mashgiach for the OK Labs.

He told us, “This trip has turned out to be a very illuminating one for me. Hashem sent me from Brooklyn to Osaka, Japan to check on the kashrus of a Japanese company’s new snack, banana chips fried in coconut oil. The bananas were fine. However, the coconut oil was imported from Singapore/Malaysia, and shipped in vats by boat to Japan. My job was to check the vats from point of origin to finish. This meant that I had to travel to Singapore.

“After getting settled in Singapore, I attended a Shabbos kiddush where I was introduced to a very nice young man. He was also from Brooklyn, and attending medical school. At his side was a lovely young gentile lady. The man introduced her to me, and then took me aside for a private conversation. He explained that he was in love with this young woman, and had just given her a diamond engagement ring. However, he had not had the courage to break the news to his parents. He asked me to visit his parents and told me how beautiful and fine his fianc? was. He then gave me his phone number.

“Two weeks later I was back in Brooklyn, in his parents’ apartment, and called his number.

” ‘Hello, Rabbi Levy. Is that you?’ ” he asked excitedly.

“Yes, it’s me. I just gave your parents your news, and we are dealing with a nightmare scene. Your mother is clutching her chest with one hand, and hanging on to the kitchen table with the other. Your father fell to the floor, and is kneeling on both knees. I have to call Hatzolah. I don’t want to be responsible for what is happening here. The only way to save your parents is for you to break your engagement, and ask your parents’ forgiveness. Should I call the ambulance, or are you going to give me your word that your engagement is over?”

“Yes, it’s over! It’s over! Please tell them I am sorry. I am giving you my word.”

“I thought Hashem had sent me to the Far East to check on fried banana chips. It turned out that my trip had an additional dimension. We never know when Hashem will make us a messenger for a lifesaving mission.”

This story is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Berel Levy, z”l, and all the rabbis who put their lives at risk by flying overseas to supervise the kashrus of food products.

George H. Gisser has recently completed his exciting new children’s book, to be released soon, entitled, Happy Kappy – The Flying Kangaroo. His creative cartoon, “It’s Kappy Time,” can be seen onwww.kappythekangaroo.com.

Hanging In the Balance: Nightmare in Japan

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

           The loneliness is overwhelming. Yoel G., Yaakov Yosef G., and Yossi B. have spent ten months in solitary confinement, sitting on a hard concrete floor, their mobility severely restricted. They have no contact with anyone they know, except for their lawyers. No visitors are permitted, with the exception of parents, whom they may only see briefly and infrequently. Even these visits are held through a glass partition, and monitored by guards and interpreters.

 

And the fear. How long will they have to remain in these forbidding jail cells, thousands of miles away from their homes and yeshivos? Will they be sentenced to a decade of forced labor by a judge who cannot comprehend the naiveté of innocent yeshiva bachurim cruelly exploited by ostensibly pious Jews? Will they ever again lead a normal, Jewish life after being “reformed” by the highly efficient Japanese corrections system?
 
Yossi was only 17 at the time of his arrest; Yaakov Yosef was 19. Lack of kosher food has caused one of the boys to lose 100 pounds, and another to lose 60.
 
It started out as an innocent favor for a friend. Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi were kindhearted yeshiva bachurim who spent their spare time doing chesed for sick people in Bnei Brak, and when someone they knew and trusted approached them with an assignment of a different nature, they had no reason to think anything was amiss.
 
“I have a friend who is an antique dealer,” the person told them, “and he needs to deliver some antiques to Japan for the Tokyo 2008 Art Fair that will be taking place in a few weeks. He is unable to go himself, due to family obligations, so he asked me to find three bachurim to each take one parcel containing valuable antiques. He is willing to pay $1,000 to each of you on your return for the effort.”
 
The boys recognized the name of the antique dealer, a prominent and respected member of the religious community in Eretz Yisrael. Nothing about the assignment sounded suspicious, and the promise of some bein hazmanim pocket money was inviting.
 
The boys were told their assignment was 100% legal and that the antiques they would be delivering did not have to be declared at Japanese customs. Instead of receiving a parcel, they were each given an empty suitcase and instructed to put their personal belongings inside. The antiques, they were told, had been placed in a sealed compartment inside the suitcases as a precaution against theft, damage or accidental loss.
 
They did not dream the sealed compartments of the three suitcases contained narcotics worth $3.6 million. They did not dream the favor they were being asked to do was a mask for a crime punishable by ten years of imprisonment and forced labor. And they did not dream that instead of the $1,000 in pocket money they had been promised for their effort, Jews the world over would have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to wage a massive legal battle on their behalf.
 
Upon arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the three unsuspecting boys placed their luggage onto the x-ray machine. Japanese customs officials spotted the hidden compartments, cut open the suitcases, and discovered a total of over 50 pounds of narcotics cleverly concealed inside. The boys were immediately arrested and placed in solitary confinement.
 
For the next 21 days, the three were subjected to grueling interrogation. The 2,500-page record of this interrogation, as well as the results of polygraph tests, showed clearly that none of the boys had any knowledge of the hidden contents of their luggage. But the law is the law, especially in Japan, where there is a zero-tolerance attitude to crime. The Japanese stance on illegal substances is one of the toughest in the world, and 99.9% of people caught smuggling drugs into Japan are convicted. Sentences can range between 10 and 15 years of prison and forced labor.
 
            By the time Japanese prisoners are released, they are fully “reformed,” usually with drastically diminished physical and mental capabilities. The Japanese corrections system is designed to act as a powerful deterrent to crime, and indeed, the crime rate in Japan is infinitesimal compared to other westernized countries.
 
Ten months in jail have taken their toll on the boys physically and emotionally, and they and their families tremble at the thought of what ten years of imprisonment and forced labor will do to them. Experts estimate that young, sheltered yeshiva bachurim like Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi would not survive even one year of prison without permanent damage.
 
             Both Yossi and Yaakov Yosef are considered minors by Japanese law, but they are nevertheless being tried in adult court in light of the severity with which the Japanese authorities view their alleged crime. Yossi’s trial was held at the beginning of February; he is now awaiting sentencing. The trials of Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are due to begin shortly, but it will be several months before all of the verdicts are delivered.
 
Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are managing to learn Torah and have completed a number of masechtos in the detention center as they await trial. The three boys struggle valiantly to adhere to halacha, despite their circumstances, and have sought rabbinic guidance in how to cope with the unique halachic challenges they face.
 
Askanim in Eretz Yisrael, the U.S., England and Belgium have worked tirelessly to provide them with kosher food, religious articles and medical attention. More importantly, they have invested tremendous efforts into putting together top-notch defense teams for each of the boys. These teams are composed of both Japanese lawyers and experts in international law such as Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli and international lawyer; the well-known Dayan Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss of Antwerp; Rabbi Jacob Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine; Rabbi Aaron Nezri of London; and Rabbi Elimelech Bindiger.
 
Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi are not just three boys sitting in jail in Japan. They are our brothers, they are our children. If you or your child were in their situation, you would desperately want kind Jews to come to your aid. That’s how these boys feel. They are totally dependent on the mercy of the Ribbono Shel Olam, the mercy of the Japanese judges, and the mercy of Klal Yisrael.
 
The first way we can help the boys is by intensifying our tefillos on their behalf and begging Hashem that the judges be fully convinced of their innocence. The full Hebrew names of the boys are: Yoel Zev ben Mirel Reesa Chava; Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel; and Yosef ben Ita Rivka.
 
The second way we can help is by shouldering some of the costs of the legal and humanitarian assistance they require. These costs have already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project that a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed until all the trials are over.
 
The mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim overrides Shabbos and takes precedence over all other forms of tzedakah. Whatever our financial situation, whatever other obligations we might have, we must remember that boys are relying on our kindness and generosity.
 

The cost of legal and humanitarian assistance has already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the rabbonim listed in the ad on page 11 of this week’s Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/hanging-in-the-balance-nightmare-in-japan/2009/02/11/

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