Aug 31, 2011


At the outset, I admit I am not objective. I believe that anything in Israel called a “Reforma” (reform) makes things worse than they were before. If anyone disagrees with me, I am willing to debate the issue whether orally or in writing.

The latest disaster called a reforma is the major reconfiguration of bus lines in the Gush Dan area. In theory this was supposed to make public transport faster, more convenient, and more efficient. Unfortunately, as is usual, in this case the theory has no resemblance to the reality.

Every day new horror stories arise regarding the unfortunate results of this transportation reform. The Minister, despite his protestations to the contrary, is not doing anything visible to ameliorate the situation. If they simply reversed the entire process and went back to the way it was before, the public would benefit greatly.

Another example of the reforma is the swindle removing water distribution from the local authorities to the new water companies. This enables the government to charge the consumer two to three times more for the same water while piling taxes on top of taxes, including VAT which was never previously charged on water.

What happens when a consumer complains to the Water Company about his outrageously inflated water bill? He gets a call from a nice young clerk, reading from a script prepared by the Water Company, who tells him that he must have a leak and he should hire an installator (plumber) at his expense to check it out. This fiendishly clever response must have been prepared by a top advertising or PR mind. In one moment it achieves multiple purposes.
1.    It puts the blame on the consumer for the inflated bill.
2.    It tells him he has to pay money out of his pocket to check the accusation of the Company, made automatically without any knowledge of the real facts.
3.    They also tell him that if he is late in paying the bill they will charge him interest.
The intended effect on most consumers is that they figure it will cost less to pay the bill than to hire an installator and they give up. Score three points for the Water Company and its genius PR advisor.

The proper consumer response should be, “I have nothing personally against you young lady, but your company charges me exorbitant fees, and claims in expensive advertising handouts to give me service. So let them hire an installator to check whether there is really a leak.” Also demand a written answer.

When I said this, the clerk asked me plaintively, “What do you want me to write?” I told her to pass my complaint to her superior or her legal department and let them decide what to write.

In a recent story which was reported on the radio, the Bat Yam Water Company sent a bill for NIS 30,000 (yes, thirty thousand new shekels) to a senior couple living on Bituah Leumi old age pension. Even with the intervention of the radio program they decided they could only reduce it to NIS 12,000 and all the wise men of Chelm could not find a legal way to solve the problem. They offered the old couple the chance to pay it out over time, but then (of course) they would have to pay interest!

The Water Companies Law grants companies a license to steal. They claim correctly that their fees for water are set by the government and they cannot change them. I think if the issue ever reaches the High Court of Justice (Bagatz) they will decide it is "ultra vires" (beyond the competence) of the Knesset to give any private company a license to steal, and the law is unconstitutional.

In too many cases enacting a law means that the Treasury text automatically becomes the Knesset text, without passing through the minds of the MK’s. Charles Dickens wrote in “Oliver Twist”, “The law is an ass.”

Aug 29, 2011


 Allowing the Egyptians to bring additional troops into Sinai despite the terms of the peace treaty would be a terrible mistake. Their soldiers will not come to fight Arabs on behalf of Jews, but to fight Jews on behalf of Arabs.

Even under the best of circumstances the efficiency of Egyptian troops in defeating terrorists and Bedouin marauders does not come close to the efficiency of the IDF. These are not the best of circumstances.

There is a growing mob psychology in Egypt calling for cancellation of the peace treaty, removal of the Israeli Embassy and Ambassador from Cairo and yearning, if truth be told, for another war with Israel.

I am not only referring to the Moslem Brotherhood. The supposed democratic fruits of the “Arab Spring” are just as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic as the Islamists. The belief that they would be more disposed to live in peace with Israel is a tragic mistake for which much blood will yet be spilled.

The Egyptians are now claiming that their honor was impugned by the killing of several Egyptians soldiers in the fire fight between Israel forces and the terrorists. Foolish Israelis are rushing to appease them, which only leads to their making ever more outrageous demands.

In the Middle East “honor” is a very important subject. Since we live in this neighborhood, the correct response called for by the Israeli government is to inform the Egyptians and the Americans that our national honor has been insulted by the attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the burning of the Israeli flag, which the numerous Egyptian military units present did next to nothing to prevent. Since our honor has been insulted the Egyptians must make immediate amends.

In the Bible the prophets frequently referred to Egypt as a broken reed, when the Kings of Israel or Judea wanted to rely on it for military support. Those words have never been more true than they are today.

Aug 18, 2011

Laugh So You Don’t Cry


The Rothschild Blvd. protesters did not “discover the wheel”, but their cry touched a raw nerve with many Israelis regarding a problem which has lasted for many decades.

The story is told that in the 1950’s, Ben Gurion visited Pres. Harry Truman in the White House. Ben Gurion was curious about how much the average American worker earned and Truman told him, “$100 per week.” Ben Gurion said, “We figure by the month, so let’s say $400 per month; and how much does it cost him to live?” Truman answered , “$300 per month.” Ben Gurion asked, “What does he do with the extra $100?” Truman said, “It’s a free country, we don’t ask.”

Then Truman asked Ben Gurion, “How much does the average Israeli worker earn?” Ben Gurion answered, “IL 400 per month.” Truman asked, “And how much does it cost him to live?” Ben Gurion said “IL 500 per month.” “Where does he get the other IL 100?” Ben Gurion, “It’s a free country, we don’t ask!”

So we see that the discrepancy between the earnings of Israeli workers and their cost of living has been around since the early days of the State. It did not disappear over time, as shown by the Hebrew skit of the “Gashash” troupe:

“Will anyone who can finish the month on his salary, please stand up.” (Not even one person in the audience rises.)

“Not a one stands up,

“Not even one stands up,

“And nonetheless from here and there, from hand to mouth, from mouth to mouth;

“And from under the table, the People of Israel lives,

“Lives and exists.”

Thus the Rothschild Blvd. protestors are not complaining about anything new. Many, many Israeli workers with full time jobs have take home pay of NIS 5,000, NIS 4,000 or even less per month, while the cost of living is higher than many European countries and even the U.S.

Since the time of my aliya in 1968, I have been wondering how the veteran Israelis manage, and I haven’t figured it out yet.

But let’s be serious. Most Israeli workers are underpaid and have been since Israel’s socialist period. There is no point in waxing nostalgic for a return to those socialist years, as some of the protest leaders, with more heart than brains, yearn to do. Only because Israel has such a strong economy now, and is not a Socialist basket case like Greece or Portugal, is there a chance for their protest to achieve something.

However, there is a real problem, and leaving it in the hands of a small coterie of highly paid officials in the Treasury, will not solve it in the future, as it hasn’t solved it in the past. They think that saying “NO!” to all strikers is the only worthy policy and continue to say, “NO” until they move on to even higher paying jobs in banking, insurance or business in the private sector.

Maybe now there’s a small chance something will change.

Aug 16, 2011

The Failures (& Successes) Of The American Jewish Establishment, Past And Present



No one seriously doubts anymore that European Jewry was abandoned by the U.S. and England during World War II. The British national unity government under Churchill did not want the problems with the Arabs which would be caused by permitting Jewish immigration to Palestine. The American government under Roosevelt was not willing to have European Jewish refugees come to the U.S. Even the visa quotas permitted by the draconian Immigration Laws were never filled during the war. U.S. Consuls were instructed to place every obstacle before would be immigrants, even those whose parents, brothers or sisters were U.S. citizens. Consuls who nevertheless issued visas did so at the risk of their careers.

The Nazi death camps were not bombed by the U.S. or Britain, even though targets a few miles away were repeatedly bombed. Churchill said that when he met with Dr. Weizmann, the Zionist leader, he couldn’t sleep at night. He solved the problem by not meeting Dr. Weizmann again. The countries of the world were divided into two groups, those (the Nazis and their allies) who were killing the Jews, and those (the U.S., England and their allies) who didn’t want to take in any Jews to their own countries or places under their control.

The official U.S. and British policy was that only the defeat of the Nazis and the end of the war could save Jewish lives. Any rescue attempts before then would impede the war effort. The official Jewish and Zionist leadership cooperated with this policy. The Zionist leaders in Palestine led by Ben Gurion and Moshe Shertok (later Sharett) and the Jewish leadership in the U.S. led by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, hushed up the news of the holocaust, cooperated fully with the U.S. and Britain, and attacked any Jews who tried to do otherwise, such as the Irgun and Stern group in Palestine and the groups led by Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) in the U.S., for example, “The Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe”.

The Jewish establishment, worshipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) first for bringing American out of the great depression and then as the great war leader. His picture graced the walls of many Jewish homes. The leaders were unwilling to think or hear anything bad about him. The foremost leader of American Jewry, (reform) Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, was a close friend and ardent supporter of FDR. He denied all news of extermination of Jews and constantly attacked the Bergson Group for revealing it.

When 400 (mainly Orthodox) Rabbis marched on Washington to seek FDR’s help to save Jews, Wise advised Roosevelt not to meet with them and FDR slipped out of a side door of the White House, so as not to be at home when they came.

400 mostly Orthodox rabbis march to the White House on October 6, 1943. Roosevelt avoided meeting with them.

Nor surprisingly the Bergson group found its main political supporters among non-Jews; the most prominent among them was Sen. Guy M. Gillette. Only in 1944 did Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury prevail on FDR to set up the War Refugee Board, which succeeded very late in the war to rescue some Jews. How many more could have been saved if it had been done earlier?


The response of the American Jewish community and Israel to the plight of Soviet Jewry was very different, much more proactive and eventually successful in rescuing the Russian Jews. It was far from the dismal record in WWII.

A number of factors contributed to this difference. Books can, have and will be written about this, but I will briefly list several of these factors.

1. The American Jewish Community was larger, stronger and less fearful of anti-Semitism than in WWII.

2. Experience in public protest had been gained from the Black voting rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement.

3. Israel’s lightning victory in the Six Day War in June 1967 had empowered Jewish activists in the U.S., the USSR, England and other countries.

4. There was a guilt feeling about the failure of rescue in WWII and anger at the establishment of that period.

5. The Israel government encouraged activism up to a point. Many activists were willing to go beyond that point.

The movement to free Soviet Jewry began in the 1960’s among sporadic groups such as SSSJ (Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry) on campuses, led by Jacob Birnbaum and Glen Richter, and the Councils which sprang up all over the U.S. and joined together in the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry.

Betarim and Revisionists, being activists took readily to this effort and the American League for Russian Jews, Inc. headed by Morris Brafman, a Revisionist leader, was established. Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Jewish Defense League (JDL) joined the effort years later, but their dramatic protests succeeded in Rabbi Kahane’s expressed goal of bringing the issue from page 23 to page 1 of the New York Times.

The mainstream organizations were still cautious, lest the Soviets take revenge on the Jews there. This was a hard argument to answer until eventually the Jews in Russia themselves said that activism and publicity were their only protection against the regime.

A group of former Betarim and other activist lawyers including Moshe Brodetzky, Morty Dolinsky, Yitzhak Heimowitz, Mel Stein and Judah Harris joined forces with SSSJ to set up the “Center for Russian Jewry” chaired by the movie mogul Spiros Skouras with a suite of offices in the Empire State Building. At its dedication the keynote speaker was Congressman (later President) Gerald Ford.

In June 1967 when Premier Kosigin came to the U.S. to try to gain for the Arabs what they lost in the war, American Jews protested non-stop at the Soviet Mission to the U.S. I broadcast an editorial reply on WCBS-TV explaining why.

The Israel government representatives who dealt with Russian Jewry matters in the U.S. were Nehemia Levanon in Washington and Meir Rosenne in New York. They were listed as Consuls, but were connected with the Prime Minister’s office. They used the Center as a lever to push the mainstream Jewish organizations into greater activity. These organizations established the National Conference on Soviet Jewry as part of the National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC). Once this happened, support for the Center was reduced or terminated.

By 1973, when I was sent from Israel to the U.S. on a mission to deliver a Petition of 17,000 Russian Jewish Olim in Israel to Sen. Jackson and Rep. Vanick,

the National Conference was a strong presence. I remember participating in their rally of 10,000 people on the steps of the Capitol, at which Yehezkel Pularevitch, Chairman of the Organization of Former Prisoners of Zion in the USSR, presented the petition to Sen. Jackson.

On a prior mission to the U.S. in June 1970 I had quoted the language of the leaders whom Moses sent from the desert to spy out the Land of Canaan, “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:33) I applied this to our struggle. If we thought we were powerless, we could never overcome the mighty USSR, but if we believed in our ability, no matter how far-fetched, we could eventually rescue Russian Jewry. The Yiddish proverb says, “If G-d wishes it, a broom can shoot.” and Russian Jewry was rescued. (NUMBERS 13:33)


Fast forward to today. Which way will the American Jewish establishment go this time?

Our sages said that since the Temple was destroyed, the power of prophecy was limited to women, children and fools. I don’t see myself as fitting into any of these categories, but nevertheless I will try to point out a few salient factors which may give some indication of trends.

1. Will the American Jewish establishment follow Obama blindly as the establishment followed FDR during WW II? J Street certainly will, since they are marching in the same direction toward “peace now”! AIPAC, the President’s Conference and other organizations will probably not follow him as the mesmerized crowd followed the Pied Piper of Hamlin.

2. Will they believe Ahmadinijad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map while killing all the Jews, unlike the 1930’s leaders who disbelieved Hitler’s blueprint in “Mein Kampf”? Most likely most of them will believe him, athough there will still be some “useful idiots” who will not.

3. Will they be active, as in the “Let my People Go” struggle or passive like the World War II leaders? Most likely many will be active, having learned the lesson. A minority will probably refuse to recognize the facts because their minds are made up in advance.

I fear Obama will never do enough to prevent a nuclear missile armed Iran, so if that is to be accomplished he will have to be a one term president.

Gerry Kandel: Victory of the Spirit

The 20th of Av (Aug. 20, 2011) is the 5th Yahrzeit of Gerry Kandel, an extraordinary person. Below is the Eulogy I wrote for him in 2006.


Gerry Kandel, z"l, (Yosef Aaron ben Leibel v’Rachel) faced up heroically to terrible adversity for most of his life. Gerry’s mother died shortly before his Bar Mitzva leaving him and his younger brother David with only their father. Their aunt Betty, who lived very close by, stepped in to care for them along with her own two children, Stuart and Linda, but not long after she also died.

Gerry became active in Betar and Camp Betar. From what I understand he was an excellent Madrich, Head Counselor of Camp Betar, and eventually Netziv. He was one of the 19 Betarim who took over the Syrian Mission to the UN on October 14, 1966. Thus, he was one of the clients I had to get released on bail and eventually, got suspended sentences. When our son Dani was born on May 14, 1968, Gerry sent him an honorary Teudat Betar.

Gerry Kandel z"l
Gerry married the love of his life, Evelyne, and they had two children, Elan and Mia. Evelyne died when Mia was almost 4 and Elan was 8. Gerry raised the children on his own, repeating the tragedy of the prior generation.

Gerry became the Assistant to the President of City University and when I used to visit New York for business or Shlichut, we would generally have lunch in the top floor dining room of the university building on 42nd Street. Gerry suffered from multiple sclerosis and by then his physical condition had deteriorated significantly. He told me that he insisted on coming to work by subway as long as he was able, rather than getting a special vehicle permit to which he was entitled. Eventually he could no longer climb the subway steps and was forced to accept the permit and park on 43rd Street just opposite the rear entrance of the University, but he continued to work as long as he was able.

Even close to the end of his life, Gerry taught a weekly university class; his helper wheeled him into the room on his wheelchair. Disability could limit his physical performance, but nothing could quench his spirit.

Aug 2, 2011

The rabbinical courts brought it on themselves

A committee appointed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman (himself a religious Jew and excellent lawyer) and chaired by Rabbi Dichovsky, formerly one of the most highly regarded judges (Dayanim) on the Rabbinical Supreme Court (Bet Hadin Hagadol) and presently Director of the Rabbinical Courts, is expected to submit a most surprising report.

Indeed, Rabbi Dichovsky has resigned as Chairman of the Committee and may even resign as Director of the Rabbinical Court System.

The surprising report will recommend that all aspects of divorce, except for the Get ceremony itself, be relegated to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Family Courts (part of the civil court system), instead of concurrent jurisdiction as exists today.

This means that only the Family Court will make the binding decisions regarding custody, child support, alimony and property distribution, even if the litigants would prefer the Rabbinical Courts to do so.

I can only say the Rabbinical Courts brought this on themselves.

When I settled in Israel in 1968, was admitted to the bar, and began to practice matrimonial law here, I defended the Rabbinical Courts against all detractors. As time went on I began to see that many of the criticisms were justified. The judges (dayanim) with few exceptions were very reluctant to order a husband to grant a Get or a wife to accept it no matter how convincing the justification.

They preferred to conduct a “war of attrition” against the couple. They would hold a hearing for 15-30 minutes and then adjourn the case for three months. After that they would hold another short hearing and adjourn for another three months. If either side did not show up on the next date, that was reason for another three month adjournment. Frequently the three judge bench was short one or even two dayanim although they only had binding power when all three were sitting.

They wanted the spouses to come to a “divorce agreement” settling all the issues between them. Then the court would give it the force of a judgment and arrange the formal Get ceremony.

There were those who said this system gave an unfair advantage to the husband, since it forced the wife to “buy” the Get by giving him part of the property to which she was entitled. My own experience was that it gave the advantage to whichever spouse was the worse “bastard”, which could also sometimes be the wife.

There were a few exceptions, Rabbis whose great knowledge of Torah enabled them to be daring in their decisions, like Rabbi Yitzhak Yedidia Frankel, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, or Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa or Rabbi Shlomo Goren, first the chief Rabbi of the IDF and later Chief Rabbi of Israel. But these were the exceptions. Most of the Religious Judges continued to decide not to decide.

As a result of the failure of the Rabbinical Court system to serve the public as it needed, public pressure led to the establishment of the Family Courts, which replaced the District courts regarding all aspects of matrimonial law except for the Get ceremony itself. From their outset the Family Courts had concurrent jurisdiction with the Rabbinical Courts, and there was often a race to the courthouse door to determine which would get the case. Now the recommendation is to give the Family Court exclusive jurisdiction over all aspects of divorce except the ceremonial aspects of the Get.

In my experience most of the Family Court judges are not such a great bargain either, but public disillusionment with the Rabbinical Court is so pervasive that it looks like they will win.

Aug 1, 2011

A good word for Obama

Believe it or not, I have a good word to say about Pres. Barak Hussein Obama. He is not the only U.S. President to believe erroneously that the way to make peace between Israel and the Arabs is to force Israel to become smaller and weaker and to make the Arabs stronger. All American presidents since Eisenhower have held that erroneous belief.

Furthermore, no American president has ever understood that the Arab concept of peace is “without Israel, not with Israel”, or the Arab concept of negotiations, “to cut Israel down step by step like a salami, until they are able to destroy us militarily,” which they have never yet been able to do.

Every American president has compared the size, population and oil of the Arabs to the size and population of Israel and neither they, nor their military advisers have ever understood why Israel won each of the wars the Arabs started.

No American president has understood that Islam is not a religion like other religions in America, but an ideology that calls for world conquest.

True, Obama does go further than all or most prior presidents. Apparently he really believes the nonsense he spouts about Islam being a religion of peace and its honored place in American history (!) His mind is made up and you’ll never confuse him with facts.

The Israeli population density is the greatest in the world, on the order of Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. It is thus a very tempting target for nuclear armed missile attacks. What is the Obama solution? Make Israel smaller and its population density greater.

The Palestinian Arabs have never honored any agreement they signed (not even with each other). What is the Obama solution? Get them to sign another agreement.

So maybe my “good word” isn’t so good after all.