Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Race Goes To The SWIFT

I must say, I had never heard of them. But that doesn’t matter.

Because the people who need to have heard of them, have.

You will recall that “SWIFT”, the bank transfer center, has joined the boycott against Iran.

The Belgium based SWIFT is the world’s standard ‘messenger’ for international bank transactions. The effect of this boycott is to make life far more difficult for Iranians looking to do international trade – primarily their vast oil industry.

Of course, the Iranians are wily enough to find alternatives; bartering would by-pass the use of banks; transferring cash or gold would be bulky, but possible; using third country banks (such as pliant Chinese or Russians) might avoid the need for SWIFT.

However, “celebrate the victories”, I say!

And who should be popping a champagne cork about the SWIFT victory?

The guys I’d never heard of….

UANI – United Against Nuclear Iran.

According to their website:

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group that seeks to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons. UANI was founded in 2008 by Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and Middle East expert Dennis Ross.

UANI has various boycott campaigns running, including “Hotels”, “Autos”, “Cranes”, “Shipping” etc.

Corporations who have signed-up against trade with Iran include GE, Siemens, Shell, Hitachi and Caterpillar. More companies here.

UANI have lobbied Central and State legislators to push Iranian sanctions into law.

Here’s some of their results:

“The specter of debarment is one of the most effective means of pressuring companies to cease their Iran business and support of the corrupt and criminal Iranian regime. No responsible and profit-minded corporation would jeopardize the millions, if not billions of dollars in revenue from federal and states contracts by doing business with Iran.

“UANI translated this concept to apply to federal, state and local governments across the U.S. via it’s Iran Business Certification Act (IBC Act), which was incorporated into the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA). The unprecedented measures of the IBC Act require companies that do business with the U.S. Government to certify they do not conduct sanctionable business with Iran in order to receive American taxpayer dollars.”

The list of objectives and achievements for this four-years young lobbying organization is astounding.

Here’s an advertising movie (which I didn’t particularly like – but they’re not asking me) to put pressure on Fiat to stop trading with Iran:

UANI – when it comes to "crippling sanctions" you’re doing great work!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Legislating Beauty

In the eternal debate of Big vs Small Government, the basic freedom to have your own taste in feminine beauty, whether Big or Small, has been protected in every democracy in the world.

The idea that the definition of female beauty will be legislated by central government is unique to Israel.

Last week, Israel’s Knesset passed a bill which outlaws the use of models who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 18.5. In other words, who are too skinny.

Danny Danon of Likud and Rachel Adatto of Kadima drafted the law, which intends to discourage the idealization of excessively thin bodies. Such idealization, it is claimed, have led to the high rates of eating disorders, particularly in teenage girls.

Whereas no-one expects this law in itself to lead Israelis to fancy plumper women, it is considered a first small step in the direction of young women having less of a hang-up about their body weight.

According to AP:
"We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real," said Liad Gil-Har, assistant to law sponsor Dr. Rachel Adato, who compared the battle against eating disorders to the struggle against smoking.
The law won support from a surprising quarter: one of Israel's top model agents, Adi Barkan, who said in 30 years of work, he has seen young women become skinnier and sicker while struggling to fit the shrinking mold of what the industry considers attractive.
"They look like dead girls," Barkan said.

There is no doubt that the media plays a leading role in defining female beauty, and that since Twiggy in the 1960’s, skin and bone have been considered  more attractive features than fat.

Consider the Barbie doll – with her impossibly long legs and skeletal torso.    

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, affect about 2% of Israeli girls between 14-18. These conditions can be fatal - indeed Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Here are some other statistics from the US Department of Mental Health:
  • A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems 

 "The Reader," a Fragonard painting from 1776
Perhaps we can return to the ideal female shapeliness of yesteryear – the well rounded ladies of Fragonard (above) and Rubens. 

Not only healthier but, surely, cuddlier too.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Should Rabbi Haim Druckman Receive Israel Prize?


This year’s Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement is being awarded to Rabbi Haim Druckman.

Rabbi Druckman is a leading National Religious rabbi and was also a Member of Knesset (1977-2003). His impressive achievements include pioneering the combined IDF + Yeshiva “Hesder” program, and heading up the National Conversion Committee for 25 years, which has implemented a fast-track program for converting non-Jewish Israeli citizens to Judaism.

Also featuring on his CV are that in 1964 he founded the Ohr Etzion B'nei Akiva Yeshiva Highschool, where he remains Rosh Yeshiva. In 1977 he established the Ohr Etzion Yeshiva, which for many years was the largest Hesder Yeshiva in the country, and in 1995 founded the Ohr MeOfir academy for highschool graduates of the Ethiopian community. Since 1996 he has also been the head of the Center for Bnei Akiva Yeshivot and ulpanot in Israel.

Rabbi Druckman has been caught up in a few controversies during his illustrious career.

In 2008 the (Hareidi dominated) Rabbinate's High Court overturned a specific conversion of a woman who apparently never lived a religious Jewish lifestyle, as required by Jewish Law.  In addition, the Court ruled all the conversions performed in the last several years by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, the head of the Conversion Administration, were hereby null and void. The number of people directed affected by this decision is unknown, but was believed to be in the thousands.

As it happens, that Rabbinate High Court Ruling was itself subsequently overturned and the conversions were all re-instated.

Another controversy, which has led this week to calls for canceling the Israel Prize decision, was Rabbi Druckman’s failure to stop the Headmaster of Netiv Meir from abusing boys under his care.

According to reports, in the 1990’s, Rabbi Druckman was told then that Rabbi Ze'ev Kopilovich, Netiv Meir's rosh yeshiva, was sexually abusing students. Druckman apparently failed to report the allegations to police and protected Kopilovich, keeping him in his job and allowing him free access to students.
Kopilovich later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

The organization “Takana Forum” was established by the National Religious leadership to prevent such cover-ups in the future.

Ironically, when Takana exposed allegations against Rabbi Motti Elon (since resulting in criminal charges against Rabbi Elon), Rabbi Druckman was reported to have made the following statement:

"I say to my students: the words of the Sages are sacred and true. They are not slogans. And this is an example. Our Sages said:  'If you saw a learned man commit an offense at night, do not pursue him about it during the day, perhaps he has repented.' It is not our task to delve during the day. And even when there are offenses, there is such a thing as repentance. He who falls, did not fall for life."  

This, and that Rabbi Druckman continued to host Rabbi Elon in his yeshiva to give classes, was understood to be overly-supportive of Rabbi Elon.

In light of these controversies, there are now calls to review the Israel Prize award to Rabbi Druckman.

Following these calls, Rabbi Druckman has publicly expressed regret that he failed to report the allegations against Rabbi Kopilovich to the police.

“I immediately terminated Rabbi Kopilovich employment, but did not realize I was required to also report the allegations to the police”, Rabbi Druckman told Maariv newspaper.
It is interesting whether Rabbi Druckman's own words, about Rabbi Elon, could also be used (by Rabbi Druckman) to justify overlooking his own failings, in order to highlight his many important achievements.

“He who falls, did not fall for life”...?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Beit Shemesh Weekly News

By Rabbi Dov Lipman

The municipal budget for 2012 was presented to city councilmen on March 7 and will be brought to a council meeting for a vote this coming Monday.  The budget is for 309,312,000 NIS, which is 25 million NIS more than last yaer's budget.  The city treasurer explained the increase based on expenses with the water corporation, changes regarding garbage collection, additional salaries, more students in the education system, an increase in welfare costs, and additional expenses for engineers for construction. 

Arnona intake only covers 113.5 million NIS of the udget.  Therefore, the budget includes requests from government ministries in the following amounts: Misrad Hapnim - 57.8 million NIS, Education Ministry -  38.3 million NIS, Welfare Ministry -  36.7 million NIS, other ministries combined  - 36.4 million NIS.

The increase in salaries is one which the opposition plans to question.  The budget booklet indicates that city salaries increased from 48.8 million NIS to 54.7 million NIS - more than a ten percent increase!  The opposition is demanding an explanation so the tax payers can know what they are paying for.  It will no doubt be a stormy session on Monday but all expect the budget to pass since the Mayor has a majority in the council in his coalition.

President Shimon Peres and Education Minister Gideon Saar will be coming to the city on Wednesday March 21 to take part in a symposium on education.  The symposium includes a display of projects from Branco Weiss students on a variety of subjects.  President Peres will open the event and Minister Saar will bring it to a close. 

Maariv newspaper released a report this week regarding IDF enlistment by city.  They reported that Bet Shemesh ranks very low.  City councilman Jacky Edri took issue with the report.  He publicized that among the religious Zionist and secular population in the city, the enlistment rate is over 95% with an overwlehming majority entering combat and elite units.

Mayor Moshe Abutbol and City councilman with the construction portfolio Moshe Montag met with city councilman Jacky Edri to discuss ways to market two new neighborhoods to the general population.  Mem 3 (300 units) sits right across Yarkon and Mishkafayim (close to 1,000 units) is on the left as one drives up Yarden towards Yarkon.  The three also committed to work to obtain subsidized housing with the criteria being young couples and IDF veterans.  Sources in city hall related that these steps by Abutbol and Montag are a direct result of the citizens contesting the construction of the new neighborhoods.

A group of local business owners have been meeting every two weeks and invite other small business owners to join their group.  The group meets to network and to work together to improve the situation for small business owners.  The next meeting will be on Tuesday March 20.  Anyone interested in more information should send an e-mail to

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Game Changer: Iron Dome

The salvos of over 200 rockets and missiles this week from Gaza into Israel were grimly familiar to Israelis. However, this time there was an important, indeed critical, difference.

Israel’s population centers have been Israel’s battle front for the past two decades.

The Gulf War of 1991 between Iraq and the USA included the launching of thirty-nine Scud tactical ballistic missiles from Iraq, aimed at Gush Dan, the Tel Aviv population center.

These were countered by US-provided and operated Patriot Missiles batteries.

The U.S. military claimed a high effectiveness against Scuds at the time, but later analysis gives figures as low as nine percent, with forty-five percent of the 158 Patriot launches being against debris or false targets. (Wikipedia)

Since the 2005 Israeli evacuation of Gush Katif/Gaza, an estimated five thousand rockets and missiles have been fired at Israeli population centers.

In the 2007 Second Lebanon War, the North of Israel was pounded by 3990 Hezbollah missiles resulting in the deaths of 43 Israeli civilians and the displacement of between 200-300,000 northern Israelis into central Israel.

During Operation Cast Lead (27 Dec 2008 - 18 Jan 2009), 571 rockets and 205 mortar shells landed in Israeli territory. Magen David Adom personnel treated and evacuated a total of 770 casualties: 4 fatalities, 4 severely wounded, 11 moderately and 167 lightly wounded. An additional 584 persons suffered from shock and anxiety syndrome.

Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, 672 rockets and 407 mortar shells had been fired into Israel (up until the new round of attacks this past week).   

At a regional strategic level, a wide range of rockets and missiles are now aimed at Israeli targets, including from Gaza and from Lebanon. Israeli sources have estimated around 30,000 such missiles are in the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror organizations.

Iran is also viewed as primarily a missile threat to Israel – whether conventional or nuclear/chemical/biological.

The Iron Dome mobile anti-missile defence system, has been developed by Rafael Ltd in double-quick time. In traditional Israeli style, time-to-delivery was slashed to just three years (such an advanced system would typically take a decade to develop, test, and field).

The level of sophistication to take down in-flight short range missiles and rockets is truly remarkable. 

Imagine trying to shoot down a bullet, with a bullet.

The advent of the Iron Dome, and its impressive performance in this round of missile attacks, effectively neutralizes the shot and medium range Surface to Surface missile threat from Gaza and Lebanon

(The Iranian long range missile threat is already countered by the anti ballistic missile Arrow 2 and new Arrow 3 missile systems developed by Israel Aerospace Industries - although these have never been used operationally.)

With a reported 90% direct hits on incoming projectiles – the Iron Dome is a regional game changer.  

Joke of the Day

My teenage daughter is currently an evacuee from the South. She goes to Baharan boarding school, in Gadera.

I informed her the other morning that they'd said on the news that Gadera had been hit by a missile.

The Bad News: the missile made a direct hit on her school. In fact, it hit her bedroom there.

The Good News: Her room is now much tidier.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Told You So??

With missiles and rockets being fired onto Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheva - indeed the whole of the South of Israel, here is an Arutz 7 video showing those who disparaged the notion that the Disengagement Plan would lead to missile risk to the South.

And how they voted....

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Ever since I took up the cause of child protection, now over two years ago, I and the two organization I have estabished in Beit Shemesh, have been regularly targeted for intimidation, cherem and verbal assault.

On the other hand, many good people have been supportive - and this gives me and the dedicated teams at Lema'an Achai and Magen tremendous chizuk (encouragement).

Two recent article, in the Jewish Press and on Harry Maryles' "Emes Ve'emunah" blog are particulary postitive.

Though I do not consider myself heroic - I do consider the people who run Lema'an Achai and Magen to be totally remarkable, dedicated, talented, and selfless. In short, heroes.

For further reading: Jewish Press and Emes Ve'Emunah 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Netanyau - Israel's Very Best Ambassador

"Cometh the moment, cometh the man."

There is no doubt that Benjamin Netanyahu is the very best public speaker abroad in Israel's Government.

I would go further - since Aba Eban, Israel has had no more eloquent English voice than Netanyahu's.

With Israel's existence in jeopardy, facing Iran, within a short time armed with a nuclear bomb, we need the very best.

Hashem sent us Bibi.

Here he is, Bibi at his charming, intelligent, moving, and powerful best:

"Be A Mensch" - A Beit Shemesh Initiative

A group called "Be A Mensch" has been established in Beit Shemesh.

The initiative has already received some seed funding from the Jewish Agency. The objective is to create positive direction, energy, and acts - particularly in light of the negativity which has recenty been associated world-wide with Beit Shemesh.

Kol Hakavod to "Be A Mensch" on this heart-warming & important initiative!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Repeating History: Obama and the Book of Esther

Of course, the parallels between today’s unfolding events, and the Book of Esther are undeniable.

The Persian megalomaniac (Haman/Ahmadinejad) is bent on the genocide of the Jews.

What struck me today is the parallels between the edict of King Ahasuerus, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s summit discussions with Barack Obama.

A peculiarity in the Esther story is that King Ahasuerus does not instruct his gentile subjects to NOT attack the Jews on Purim day, but rather he:

granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey,

With Israel soldiers now so much a part of our daily reality, we often lose sight of the rarity in history of Jews being able to have a right of self defence.

Prior to King Ahasuerus’ decree, the status quo was that Jews did NOT have the right to defend their lives, and the Jews were required to be murdered without organized or armed resistance. Like sheep to the slaughter.

This was indeed the case throughout our millennia of exile – and, indeed, ever since the fall of the independent Hasmonean kings.

Obama said to AIPAC yesterday: “Iran’s leaders should… not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”

Both Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have repeatedly referred to Israel’s right to protect herself and to take such military decisions alone.

Of course, we want Obama to go one important step further – and to commit his own awesome military power to neutralizing the Iranian nuclear threat.

Hopefully, this will come soon, very soon – but in the meantime, simply recognizing that today’s Jews can and do arm ourselves, and organize ourselves as the IDF, for our protection against those who would annihilate us, resonates through our defenseless and tragic exile, back to that very first Purim in Persia/Iran.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Book of Esther - Western Style!

This is a neat summary of the Book of Esther complete with a profound message.

It is all the more significant in that this video was produced in memory of Udi Fogel, who was murdered a year ago in Itamar, together with four members of his family,by Arab terrorists, while sleeping in their beds.
A full description of that most horrific murder is here.

(The video is in Hebrew).