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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘politics’

High Stakes in Iran for Ahmadinejad

Monday, May 6th, 2013

In Iran almost nothing is what it seems to be. Iranian culture is formal; it places a premium on politeness and manners. By violating both principles, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been mesmerizing Iranians, to the delight of the masses and the embarrassment of the few. When Iranian reporters in New York, for instance, told him that the Iranian parliamentarians had criticized him, he shot back “Goh khordand” (“They can go eat [explitive]“).

Referring to the U.S.-Iranian relationship, Ahmadinejad refers to breast-feeding babies and uses profanity, and his audience loves him! The first reference comes from a Persian expression: Mamaro looloo bord ["The ogre has taken away the mother's breastfeeding"], meaning: From now on, the rules have been changed and you had better listen to me.

Ahmadinejad constantly belittles the regime’s enemies — and is the most successful leader to do so since the death of Khomeini. Khomeini prophetically proclaimed, “America cannot do a damn thing,” and history seems to have proven him right — both throughout the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the pullback of the Marines from Beirut by President Reagan, through the present failure of the U.S. to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad keeps standing up to America and America keeps doing nothing to stop him. It was America alone, by doing nothing, that enabled Khomeini to achieve greatness and maintain his grip on power.

Ahmadinejad follows in Khomeini’s footsteps. He proclaims the holocaust is a myth; he constantly belittles America, and the U.S. still does nothing. When Ahmadinejad is interviewed by the American media, the interviewers are ill-prepared: they never ask follow-up questions, challenge his lies, or call his bluff.

Iranian society, like most of us, likes winners, and if winning comes through the principle of zerangi [winning at the expense of others], and you come out on top, all the better.

Ahmadinejad is, moreover, known as a big teller of tall tales and white lies: a chakhan. Telling tall tales and white lies is embedded within the Islamic culture of Iran: in the religious writings, telling white lies to your enemies is encouraged. As a devout Shi’ite Muslim, Ahmadinejad is practicing taqiya [dissimulation] — completely acceptable if used to advance the goals of the Islamic Republic — and also possibly your rule — whenever and wherever necessary.

During Ahmadinejad’s latest trip to Isfahan province, the Fars News Agency, which is friendly towards him, carried multiple pictures of him and his choice for the next president, Esfandyar Mashai; it went on to show single photographs of Mashai. It just so happens that Mashai is also related to Ahmadinejad by marriage: his son married Mashai’s daughter. Blood alliances are a big factor in Iranian politics.

If we are to understand the fierce battles now raging among Iran’s rulers, we need to find answers to the following questions: What has emboldened Ahmadinejad to use such foul language in public when addressing his adversaries?

  • Who and what is emboldening him openly to support, as his successor, Mashai, a man singled out by other forces in the regime for criticism?
  • Are these signs of a major power shift in the Islamic Republic?

We can draw two conclusions from the above:

  • Ahmadinejad dares not give the impression that he is weak;
  • He is certain that his opponents — three Larijani brothers and Khamene’i — are weak.
  • As an activist, however, within the ranks of the veterans of the Revolutionary Guards, he must feel that they cover his back. This is a game of high-stakes poker, following in the footsteps of large sums that have been transferred out of Iran by the cronies of the regime.

The stakes are so high, in fact, that Ahmadinejad is providing videos of another Larijani brother, Fazael Larijani, demanding bribes. This video was screened in parliament to the shame and amazement of the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani.

For Ahmadinejad, this is a win-win gamble. He can either succeed by blackmailing his opposition within the ruling Islamic regime not to harm him, or, should he be harmed, he will be granted martyrdom — a lofty and much sought-after status in the current messianic Shi’ite regime.

Lakewood’s $10 Million Coup

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

This is one of those stories that worry me. VIN and NJ.com report that Lakewood Yeshiva (BMG) has been approved by the State of New Jersey for an over ten million dollar grant in what Governor Chris Christie is calling a “new era” for the state’s institutions of higher learning.

I’m sure that Lakewood applied for that grant legally and truthfully. I do not believe for a second that there was any fraud involved. And I congratulate them on a successful outcome. Lakewood certainly needs the money. But I remain with some serious concerns.

The grant was given for the construction of a library and research center. Governor Christie’s goal is “keeping New Jersey’s “best” and “brightest” in-state, while attracting new research and business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs.”

What worries me is that in spite of what I am sure was a completely honest presentation of Lakewood’s plans to the state; I am not convinced that the state’s purpose in granting them that money is even a dream in the back of the minds of Lakewood’s leaders. Nor do I believe for a minute that such a library will serve any other purpose than the stated mission of such an institution – Torah study. The kind of research that library will offer will no doubt be only in that vein. Neither am I convinced that it will result in anything near attracting new business partners.

This project will help to retain some of the finest minds in Torah Judaism. Lakewood is the premier “Torah Only” Yeshiva in the United States. It attracts the best and brightest among its constituents. Expansion means attracting more of the same. Some of whom may settle there and eventually have good jobs (and some – not such great jobs).

But even so, Lakewood cannot claim that as its goal. It can only say that this is a by-product of their ‘Torah Only” system. This is a yeshiva that forbids its students to take any secular courses while enrolled there and discourages it even after they leave. This is a yeshiva whose rosh yeshiva (dean) made disparaging remarks about someone who has been a pioneer in providing higher education for students of yeshivos like Lakewood so that they could get decent jobs… basically referring to him as a second class citizen (…full time students of Torah being first class citizens). One might even say that the rosh yeshiva would view someone like that as undermining the goals of Lakewood!

It is also no secret that Lakewood uses the welfare system legally for students who qualify for aid. Most of them probably do – since they do not have jobs but do have large families. Even those whose wives work (most of them, I’m sure) do not make enough money to disqualify them from some sort of government assistance. Again, nothing legally wrong with that.

I have to ask, is there not a moral or ethical issue of misrepresenting yourself to the world in this way – even if you qualify legally? Is there not something wrong with able bodied people choosing not to work and using the welfare system as a means of income?

And by the same token, is there not something wrong with taking over $10 million knowing what the government thinks you are going to do with that money – and using it for something else – even though it technically qualifies? A Beis HaMedrash may be a library. But is a $10 million Beis HaMedrash going to attract business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs?

Even if it truly a research library and not a Beis HaMedrash – it will certainly only contain Seforim – religious books – even if some of them will be in English. What kind of research will this foster – other than research in Torah studies?

I of course have no problem with such a library. I think it will be a valuable resource for student of Torah. But is this what the State of New Jersey had in mind in approving $10 million dollars to Lakewood?

Lakewood’s goal is not Governor Christie’s goal. Lakewood wants to expand its student base. The enormous growth in the numbers of Orthodox Jews, especially among Haredi Jews of the “Torah Only” persuasion, demands such an expansion. For some time now, Lakewood has been talking about doubling its capacity to over 10,000 students!

I guess they have found a way of doing that. But is it ethical? Will the state be happy with the results? And how will this be perceived by the secular public? Will they not see this as being unethical? Is this ultimately the wisest way of raising money for their cause? Will the potential negative fallout be worth it if it happens?

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TIME Lists Yair Lapid as One of Top 100 Influential Leaders

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

TIME magazine has selected Israel’s new superstar politician Yair Lapid as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. The magazine placed him alongside people such as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Pope Francis in the group of top leaders.

Lapid is the son of the late secular party leader Tomy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor whose Shinui (Change) party won 15 seats in the Knesset and then fell into the long history of failed one-man and one-issue parties.

The younger Lapid turned to politics last year after making a name for himself as a left-wing secular journalist who formed his Yesh Atid (Future) party and then advertised himself as a tolerant centrist. Yesh Atid is the second largest party in the Knesset, earning him the position of Finance Minister, probably the first person to hold that position without having even a high school diploma.

“If the world at large views Israel through its conflict with the Palestinians, Lapid personifies the nation’s determinedly inward focus, TIME’s Israeli correspondent Karl Vick wrote.

Lapid is becoming the center-left media’s Great Hope to oust Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Lapid himself has said he expects to become Prime Minister. It might have been more than a coincidence that the name of Netanyahu, who was on the list last year, was missing from this year’s roster.

Vick correctly concluded in his short description of Lapid, “He already has the swagger.”

Better or Worse: Politics and Conceptions of Change

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

All politics are the politics of the future. The one cause that we all champion, regardless of our political orientation, is the cause of the future. All that we fight for is the ability to shape the future.

The fundamental political question is, “Do you believe things are getting better or worse?” Ruling parties tend to answer, “Better”, opposition parties tend to answer, “Worse”. The deeper answer to that question though lies in our perceptions of the past and the future.

The left tends to view the past negatively and future shock positively. It wants change to disrupt the old order of things in order to make way for a new order. It hews to a progressive understanding of history in which we have been getting better with the advance of time, the march of progress mimics evolution as a means of lifting humanity out of the muck and raising it up on ivory towers of reason through a ceaseless process of change.

The right often views the past positively, it sees change as a destroyer that undermines civilization’s accomplishments and threatens to usher in anarchy. It fights to conserve that which is threatened by the entropic winds of change. The conservative worldview is progressive in its own way, but it is the progress of the established order. It sees progress emerging from the accretion of civilization, rather than from the disruption of revolution.

Where the left tends to be unrealistically optimistic about the future, acting like a child running to the edge and jumping off, without remembering all the bumps and bruises before, the right tends to be pessimistic about the future. It tends to be wary of change because it is all too aware of how dangerous change can be.

Youth who do not understand the value of what is around them rush to the left. As they achieve a sense of worth, of the world around them and of their labors, they drift slowly to the right. Age also brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Knowing how you can be hurt, how fragile the thin skin of the body, the fleshy connections and organs dangling within, brings with it a different view of the world. Once you understand that you can lose and that you will lose, then you also understand how important it is to defend what you have left.

The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action. This carnival drumbeat loses its appeal when you come to understand how dangerous change can be. Personal history becomes national history becomes personal history again as you live through it. Seeing what a mistake change can be as you watch politicians disgraced, causes revealed as fool’s errands and crusades fall apart, is a great teacher of the folly of change for the sake of change.

Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is the fundamental challenge of the conservative that asks whether the change was really worth it. It is the question at the heart of the struggle between the right and the left.

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago? It’s an uncomfortable question because it has no simple answer. In some ways we are better off and in some ways we are worse off. Examining the question points us to the sources of the problem. The places where the tree has grown wrong, the branches that have to be pruned so that it may live.

The power of this question is that it challenges the narrative of change. It asks us to examine that most basic premise that change is good. But beyond the narrative tangles of those in power and those out of power, is the larger echo of that question which asks whether the world overall is becoming a better or worse place.

This question has deeper resonances. Is history a wheel or a rocket shooting up to the stars? Are we on an inevitable evolutionary trajectory rising up or are we doomed to repeat dark ages, progress and then dark ages again? Beneath all the speculations and theorizing is the grim question, what becomes of us? Not us individually, but our societies, our nations, our civilizations, our accomplishments and our way of life.

If I Were Prime Minister: the Gov’t of an Anarcho-Capitalist

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Note: This is satire, but does accurately reflect my feelings towards the Israeli government.

While I do not believe in the legitimacy of any government to exist at all, if I were forced to be Israel’s prime minister at gunpoint (it could happen any day now) and I had to name ministers, what would my government look like, and who would be in it?

I started thinking about this for more than a fraction of a second when I saw who got what in the divvying up of ministerial positions. So-and-so is minister of “strategic affairs.” Some other guy is minister of “agriculture.” Another idiot is in charge of “water,” because after all, if some politician who knows nothing about water supplies is not in charge of all of our water, we’ll all thirst to death and the Kinneret will turn into sewage overnight. This has already happened twice back before politicians were in charge of water.

And agriculture. Thank goodness a politician who knows absolutely nothing about how to grow food is in charge of the entire agriculture sector so he can tell us what we can import, export, buy, sell, when and where and how. Otherwise no one would be able to grow any food and we’d all starve.

But, OK, let’s assume I had to build a government and name ministers. Who would they be? First of all, I’d build a coalition of 120 MK’s and include everyone in my government by promising everyone a ministerial position. First, I would name Yair Lapid Minister of Male Grooming. He will be responsible for training all men in the state who can’t groom themselves and look like shlubs, how to look decent, improve their smiles, and generally look kempt. I will pay him $500 a month and give him a budget of $20 all out of my own pocket, and if he goes over that amount, I will fire him and give his job to Ahmed Tibi.

Instead of only one agriculture minister, there will be 5 ministers of one lima bean plant. These 5 people will be Liberman, Silvan Shalom, Tzipi Livni, and two of the smartest apes I can find in the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. They will all fight over how to regulate the lima bean plant and can pass whatever ministerial orders they want on how to restrict, tax, and at what age to draft the lima bean plant into the army, but nothing else. If they start fighting, they’re all fired, except for the apes, who can continue regulating at will.

There will be an Interior Minister, but he will only be in charge of regulating the interior of his Knesset office. In fact, everyone in my government can be an Interior Minister. They can all decorate them with lima beans they get from the Lima Bean Plant ministers on the off chance that the 5 lima bean plant ministers haven’t regulated and taxed the lima bean plant to death. I’ll give them each a shekel to buy some gum for their offices from my own pocket.

There will also be a Culture and Sport minister. (Yes, in Israel, there actually is a politician in charge of “culture and sport”. Because without politicians, we’d forget how to play soccer and be cultural.) The culture and sport minister will be Gidon Sa’ar, who word has it likes to go to night clubs. His job will be going to night clubs once a week and writing a report about the number of flies on the ceiling of the night club. If he doesn’t write the report every single week and submit it to my desk (This Week: Eight Flies), he will be fired and his position will not be filled.

The foreign minister will be nobody, as I’m not interested in talking to other state leaders.

The education minister will be nobody, as I’m not interested in telling parents how to educate their kids.

The housing minister will be nobody, as I’m not interested in telling people where they can and can’t build and live.

The communications minister will be nobody, as I am not interested in telling people how they can communicate and what cell phones they can buy for how much.

Will the Writer of the Fake Gideon Sa’ar Letter be Caught?

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Being a public figure isn’t easy on one’s personal life.  Israel’s Minister of Education Gidon Sa’ar just got a very painful lesson in that subject.

One of his enemies decided to knock him down a few levels and/or boot him out of politics by accusing him of sexual misconduct.  It was pretty easy.  The person just wrote a letter, signing with someone else’s “initials” and then sent it off so the public could hear about it.

After innumerable headlines and articles and television news time spent on the subject of the “evil Gidon Sa’ar,” communicating that the previously squeaky clean Likud politician was just like the others,  it has finally been revealed by the police that the letter is a forgery.

Now, I wonder if the police will devote the same time and energy to investigate, discover and prosecute the forger or forgers? People should know that if they try to destroy a person and that person’s career that they will be destroyed instead.

There’s so much internal fighting and intrigue in high places, whether politics, academia, finance, media and more.  It’s really frightening to think how easy it is for someone to just write one of these “letters” or notes which can totally destroy a person, his/her family, reputation, career and worse.

I really hope that the Israeli Police won’t rest until they discover, try and convict the guilty in this real scandal.

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France in a State of National Depression

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

France is the sick man of Europe — at least, that is how the French themselves apparently see it. Last month, a survey published in the leading newspaper, Le Monde, found that a large majority of the French believe that France’s economic power and cultural influence have declined over the past decade. One in every two Frenchmen seems to have lost hope, evidently convinced that the decline of France — economic as well as cultural — is “inevitable.”

The French also seem to have lost faith in democracy. Le Monde described the survey’s findings as “alarming.” Three-quarters believe that French democracy is not working well. 62% believe that their politicians are corrupt. The survey indicated that authoritarianism is widely supported, by the Left as well as the Right. More than 70% of the French want a strong leader – a “real chef” – to restore order. So do, obviously, not only 97% of the right-wing Front National party voters, but also an astonishing 98% of the voters of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, and 70% of the voters of the governing Socialist Party of President François Hollande.

A quarter of the French want to withdraw from the European Union; two-thirds want to limit the E.U.’s power and take a stronger stand in favor of France’s own interests. A majority of the French favor economic protectionism; 70% are convinced there are too many foreigners in the country, and 62% no longer feel as at home in their own country as they used to. Front National party leader Marine Le Pen said the survey shows that “The French agree with us.”

Dominique Reynié, a professor of political science at the renowned Paris Institute of Political Studies [Sciences Po], describes the general sentiment, visible in the survey, as “ethno-Socialism.” This is a Socialism that strives for Keynesian full employment and an elaborate social security system, underpinned by nationalist policies.

The survey also showed that 74% of the French consider Islam incompatible with French society, and 25% say that Judaism is incompatible with French society. Among the latter there might be a significant number of Muslims. Nevertheless, the figure is disconcertingly high. 11% consider Catholicism incompatible with French society.

According to the historian Michel Winock, another professor at Sciences Po, “the French are afraid.” They are afraid of unemployment, economic decline, globalization, the E.U., immigrants, Islam. They are suffering from a “profound despair,” which makes them long for strong leadership. In 2007, they voted for Sarkozy in the hope that he would be this strong leader. Last year, they voted for Hollande who promised a national resurgence. In both cases, they were sorely disappointed.

The national malaise also visible in the survey can be seen elsewhere in French society as well. The French are depressed: they are the world’s largest consumers of anti-depressants — twice as much as their English neighbors and three times as much as their German neighbors.

The feelings of national depression were not eased when two weeks ago Michel Sapin, the French Minister of Labor, said in a radio interview that the French state was “totally bankrupt.” Though technically not officially bankrupt yet, France has five major financial headaches.

First, there is the rising government debt. Between 1974, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing became President of France, and today, France’s national debt rose from 21% to 90% of GDP. This year, interest payments on government debt amount to €45 billion, the largest item in government expenditure, and higher than the total education budget.

Second, there is the pension problem. France has a pay-as-you-go pension system. In order to keep future pensions payable, the French government either has to raise the working population’s pension contributions by 1.1%, cut actual pensions by 5%, or raise the retirement age, currently at 60, by 9 months. Last June, President Hollande cut the retirement age from 62 to 60, reversing the raise introduced by his predecessor Sarkozy in 2010. Minister Sapin, a pragmatic Socialist, opposed this move, but Hollande felt compelled to fulfill his electoral promises.

Third, there is the labor market. 18% of France’s active population is unemployed. Over half a million people have been out of work for more than three years. Three years ago, fewer than 300.000 people were in this situation. Wage costs are too high, productivity is dropping, and talented people are leaving France to work abroad.

Jewish Home to Likud: Ball in Bibi’s Court

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

The criticism leveled by senior Likud officials against Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, accusing him of violating his promises to his own voters, have received this a quick response from Bennet’s people.

“Netanyahu is the one who cheated his constituents,” said a senior official in the party that won 12 seats in the elections, insisting it is inconceivable that Bennett would compromise his principles. “Anyone who thinks that Bennett will fold just doesn’t know him. He has nerves of steel. There is no chance he will blink first.”

Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked on Sunday attacked the conduct of the Likud party in the coalition negotiations, saying that “If Netanyahu wanted to – he could quickly form a government with us in it.”

According to Shaked, “the Likud statements, as if our understandings with Yair Lapid constitutes a deception of voters, shows contempt for the public’s intelligence.”

Shaked added that “despite the mudslinging campaign against us before the elections, we recommended Netanyahu to form the next government. The campaign is over, stop attacking the Jewish home and just form a government.”

Meanwhile, another senior Jewish Home official has told Arutz 7 that the Religious Zionist movement is not Netanyahu’s pet.

“Since the elections, Likud has been pushing us away and excluding us. Initially, there were those devastating attacks against our rabbis, then Netanyahu’s whole conduct was an attempt to humiliate us. He preferred to meet with Tzipi Livni, Yacimovich and Zahava Gal’on before getting to the Jewish Home.”

Bennett’s relationship with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, another spot the Likud has been attacking, was described by Jewish Home officials as a strong alliance. “The person who should take pride in forging the relationship between us and Lapid is none other than Netanyahu. He has pushed us there. His actions will keep closer and his actions will push us away. The way they’ve been pulling the rope, they’re just bringing us even closer to Lapid.”

The same sources have estimated that “Netanyahu wanted a leftist government with Livni, Kadima and the Haredim. But the election results forced on him a different government. We have principles, and as long as they’re not met, we will not accept and not even discuss government portfolios. Their entire attitude is derogatory. Not only to Jewish Home, but to the entire National Religious public which has followed Netanyahu for years.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/jewish-home-to-likud-ball-in-bibis-court/2013/02/17/

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