Everything (and Everyone) is Connected

 

When we were about to spend a week in Paris recently in order to visit several art exhibitions that were about to close, I was afraid that the demonstrations of the gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest protestors) would disturb our visit, but there was no sight or sound of them, except on the TV. The receptionist in the hotel assured us that they confined their disruptive activities to the areas on the other side of the Seine, and that they did not venture to the area of the Left Bank (Saint Germain des Pres), where we were staying.

That was very reassuring, and indeed we did not catch sight of a single yellow vest. However, it was while we were in Paris that it finally dawned on me that what is happening in Paris (and elsewhere in France) is connected with events in other countries, and that it all comes down to the clash between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ The gilets jaunes have made it very clear that their grievances are about economic inequality and the burden of taxation that was about to become heavier until Macron reversed his policies, or at least put them on hold.

From my (admittedly limited) experience of France I find it strange that people there are complaining about the standard of living. Supermarket shelves are stocked with all kinds of delicacies, and the restaurants and cafes seem to be thriving. Although productivity in France is one of the highest in the OECD, French working hours are relatively short and the retirement age quite low (55). That, by the way, is one of the bones of contention, as M. Macron has expressed his intention of increasing it, bringing it into line with the retirement age in other OECD countries.

Be that as it may, the thought that came into my mind upon hearing the grievances of the French protestors was that they are being echoed around the world. What, after all, is behind Brexit if not the resentment of the ‘have-nots’ in the poorer regions of the UK against those they perceive as the ‘fat cats’ in London and other large cities, who are all in favour of remaining in the EU? Theresa May admitted as much in her speech to parliament in which she claimed that there are large segments of the British public which feel under-represented and neglected. Naturally, there’s nothing easier than to direct that enmity towards the newcomers, the upstarts, the immigrants, as was done by the Leave campaigners.

And where are the voters who supported Donald Trump for president of the USA? Mainly in the Midwest and the towns and states where unemployment and poverty is more widespread than along the east and west coasts of the USA. Several European countries have also voted right-wing candidates into office, as has happened in Hungary, Poland, Italy and elsewhere, probably for similar reasons.

It has been claimed that the internet has enabled diverse groups to become connected with one another, to share experiences and complaints, and then to take action in order to bring about the changes they want, or at least to express their sentiments and objections.

And therein lies the danger. Karl Marx’s clarion call, ‘Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains,’ is reaching an ever-widening audience that is ready and willing to act upon that message. It is no coincidence that this happens to coincide with a rise in expressions of anti-Semitism and actions against Jews and Jewish communities. Today it is easier than ever to rally support for theories of conspiracy and hatred against whoever is the subject of opprobrium de jour, and there is no group easier to pinpoint as having prospered, as ‘not belonging,’ as ‘not one of us’ than Jews.

The Moslem religion, whether benign or radical, also has a role to play in generating anti-Semitism, and the growing proportion of Moslems in Western Europe cannot be ignored. There is anti-Semitism on both the European far right and far left, and it is further promoted by propaganda intended to arouse sympathy for Palestinians and opprobrium towards the State of Israel. The sad fact, which is generally ignored, is that because Israel was attacked by several Arab countries in 1967 it now controls areas of land inhabited by Palestinians. Politicians on both sides seem unable or unwilling to find a resolution to the current impasse.

The only solution to all the resentment and hatred generated by inequality and poverty throughout the world would be the large-scale redistribution of wealth, as advocated by Marx. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.

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‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante

 

This novel, the first of a quartet, has become an international bestseller and has been widely praised in literary circles. So I was overjoyed when I was able to pick up a copy someone had discarded at one of the airports I visited recently. I found it a wee bit difficult to get into at first, but once I had overcome that initial barrier I found myself entranced by the account of the friendship between two girls, Elena (Lenu) and Lila, in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of post-war Naples. The book starts with their childhood, when they both still played with dolls, continues with their teenage years and adolescent agonies, and ends with the wedding of one of them, though still a teenager.

The author manages to describe the feelings and experiences of those childhood years, with the close but fluctuating relationship between the two girls, as well as between them and the people around them, in a vivid and engaging way. The writing style does not always read smoothly, and at times there are too many jerky stops and starts in the narrative flow for my taste, but the intensity of the emotions and events described help the reader to overcome any reluctance he or she might have to continue reading.

The first few pages of the book provide an index of the various families who comprise the main characters of the neighbourhood and the book, and I found this very helpful, as the Italian names and surnames are sometimes difficult to differentiate and thus to imagine the characters. After all, when half the boys are called Gino, Nino, and Rino, that does not help the reader to distinguish between them.

As I read I found myself torn between identification with the two girls, whose friendship reminded me of my own childhood friend and neighbour, on the one hand, and revulsion from the violence endemic in the society in which Lenu and Lila grew up, on the other. This violence was both physical and verbal, whether between husband and wife, parents and children, neighbours—both men and women—and above all between the boys in the neighbourhood. This may be something that is more characteristic of the mediterranean temperament than of the British society in which I grew up (though I know that even English boys fight), but Elena Ferrante’s protagonists accept it as an inevitable part of life.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book and am happy to recommend it to others for the insights it gives into the way of life and mental processes of children and adolescents everywhere, as well as in the specific society it describes. In a way, it is an insider’s anthropological study of a society that seems almost exotic to the contemporary Western observer and somewhat removed from everyday life as we know it. I’m looking forward to reading the other volumes in the series.

The book has now been made into a TV series, which I have managed to watch. For artistic reasons, although the producers are American, the dialogue is all in Italian, making it necessary for non-Italian viewers to read the subtitles. As someone who likes to watch TV in bed this makes life rather difficult for me, but it’s worth the effort to see the characters being brought to life in a sensitive and convincing way.

The Tipping Point

 

To tip or not to tip? That is the question. And that is a subject that has occupied my thoughts inordinately for the last few days as the result of something that I witnessed with my own eyes.

Until recently OH and I regarded one of the restaurants in the nearby Arab village as a ‘home away from home,’ as it were. On returning from a trip abroad it was the easiest place to go to for a meal before we descended once more into the routine of shopping and cooking. If there was an occasion to celebrate, we would use the opportunity to eat there. The food was on the whole good, if uninspiring, and the service was generally efficient and friendly. We could pick up the phone and order a table for two, four or more, with the greatest of ease, and we were always greeted cordially upon arrival.

Last Saturday we repaired there for lunch after attending a concert in the nearby church. We were ushered to the table for six we had reserved and were ready to help our four grandchildren (and ourselves) order the main course, as meanwhile the table was bedecked with numerous small plates containing salads of various kinds, as is customary in this kind of restaurant.

It was a sunny day and the restaurant was full with diners—mainly families—enjoying the opportunity to eat out. We felt very much at ease. When the waiter came to take our orders he duly noted the various requests on a pad, and our wait began. That’s probably why they’re called ‘waiters.’ They make you wait.

After a very long wait, two servings arrived, and the recipients began to eat, expecting the rest of the party to receive their plates forthwith. This did not happen, however, and it took quite a while before another two portions were brought out. One more portion arrived, but one poor granddaughter was left without food while the rest of us tucked in. When the waiter did finally bring her order, most of the rest of us had already finished eating.

I know that it was a busy time and this is a family-oriented restaurant in an Arab village and not a repository of haute cuisine and the customs of fancy restaurants in town. Nonetheless, it has been customary even in family restaurants to serve all the people sitting at a table at more or less the same time. In fact, I even saw this happening at other tables in the restaurant while we were sitting there.

At this point OH told me that he was not going to give the waiter a tip. I did not take him seriously, so did not protest. However, when he settled the bill OH told the manager he had not been happy with the service, and strode out of the restaurant without another word/ The four grandchildren and I trailed out after him, but as I left ‘our’ waiter tapped me on the shoulder and said: “He’s forgotten me. He didn’t leave me a tip.”

Mortified, I tried to find some money in my purse, at which point one of the other waiters said: “Never mind. Next time.” To my regrest, I put my purse away and left the restaurant. But the incident has haunted me ever since.

One thing is sure: I feel too uncomfortable to go to that restaurant in the near future.

 

‘Haminhara’ (The Tunnel) by A.B. Yehoshua

 

This book, published (in Hebrew) by The New Library in 2018, was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value. But it turned out to be a great disappointment. The only thing I can say in its favour is that the tunnel of the book’s title is both a physical entity and a metaphor for the chief protagonist’s declining mental faculties. That in itself is a clever and fascinating concept. It’s a pity the book doesn’t live up to the potential implicit in this idea.

Other writers, notably Emma Healey in ‘Elizabeth is Missing,’ have tried to describe the interior workings of the brain of someone whose cognitive faculties are deteriorating, and in that particular case I found the account both fascinating and insightful.

However, Avraham B. Yehoshua succeeds only in taking the reader through what seems to be an interminable series of banal thoughts, conversations and interactions of someone who is of very  little intrinsic interest. The overriding sense of boredom I experienced while ploughing through this book left me completely indifferent to the fate of the main character. His thoughts and conversations are tedious and trivial, and the few characters with whom he has any interaction seem to be flat and stereotypical. There are no moments of illumination, no insights into internal processes or motivation, and nothing that aroused my interest in what would happen next. I kept on reading because, as a writer myself, I feel obliged to finish a book once I’ve begun, and am always hoping that things will improve. In this instance, however, they did not.

The fact that the author puts the same nasty comments about women drivers in the mouths of two different male characters in different parts of the book did not endear the writing to me either. The editor should have spotted that and cut out one of those diatribes (if not both).

Although the book does pick up a little towards the end, with some interesting encounters and situations, as well as a completely atypical and unexpected (and also unconvincing) course of action undertaken by the main character, Zvi Luria, the effort of reading the book did not make this worthwhile. In fact the ultimate conclusion of the book is unsatisfactory and elliptical to the point of being annoying.

 

If Music be the Food of Love…

The idea came to me when the announcer on the radio said that the next item in the music programme would be one of Mozart’s ‘Haydn Quartets,’ i.e., quartets composed by Mozart and dedicated to and inspired by Haydn. I had known about the relationship of mutual admiration between the two composers back in the eighteenth century, but in a flash of insight I suddenly saw the saga of great composers as a kind of marathon or relay race, with the baton being passed from one to the other with a beauty and inevitability that commands respect and admiration and, yes, love.

Of course, there was great music before Johan Sebastian Bach, and some of those composers were even relatives of his, but I’ll start with him, because he towers above them all, and has endured in the most steadfast way. In what follows I’ll probably be displaying my ignorance, but I want to share my insights into – and love of – great music with anyone who happens to read this.

I am grateful to Wikipedia, which makes it so easy to find the dates and correct spellings of all those titans whose music has helped and inspired me on a daily basis. I am also grateful to the music program of the Israel Radio, whether in its current form or its previous incarnation, for providing me with an almost constant companion of beautiful and varied sounds.

Bach (1685-1750) passed the baton on to Haydn, though his contemporary, Handel (1685-1759) also left his mark in the annals of music. Haydn (1732-1809) lived a long and very fruitful musical life, and his logical successor was indeed Mozart (1756-1791), who managed to produce an astounding wealth of great music in his tragically short life.

In the early music of Beethoven (1770-1827) one can hear strains of Mozart, especially in his first two piano concerti, but of course as he developed his style changed. His natural successor, and a great admirer of the man and his music, was Schubert (1797-1828), who was even a pall-bearer at his funeral. Here, too, one can often hear echoes of Beethoven in Schubert’s music, especially his symphonies and piano sonatas. Schubert’s short life was also one of immense creativity, and his music endures as a lasting memorial to him.

The logical successor to Schubert in this genealogy was Brahms (1833-1897), who was doubtless aware of his musical predecessor through another link in the chain, Robert Schumann (1810-1856), who befriended Brahms and knew Schubert’s music. In his role as music critic Schumann was a pivotal figure in the musical world, serving as a link between composers who never actually met in person. He was a notable composer and his music was also influenced by that of his predecessors.

Schumann was personally acquainted with Mendelssohn (1809-1911) and it is one of the ironies of history that it was Mendelssohn who revived interest in the music of Johan Sebastian Bach, which had been forgotten. It was Mendelssohn who conducted the first performance of Bach’s colossal ‘St. Matthew Passion’ after it had been set aside and forgotten for generations.

There are many composers who could qualify as the successor to Mendelssohn and serve as the link between his music and that of my great hero, Mahler, but I would point to Chopin (1810-1849) as the composer who bridges the divide between Mendelssohn’s romantic style and the music of the modern era. The music of Richard Wagner is also considered by cognoscenti to bridge the divide between romantic and contemporary music, but I am not sufficiently familiar with his music to pass an opinion of my own.

In my view, it is Mahler (1860-1911), who stands like a colossos astride the junction between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His music bridges the gap between the centuries and the music that time, showing us both the light and darkness of the contemporary world. In line with the title of his first symphony, he is a true Titan in the world of music.

East, West, Home’s Best

Travelling on planes, trains, taxis, cars and even a bus on one occasion, not to mention a great deal of walking, staying in New York, Las Vegas and San Diego in the USA, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, taking in visits to museums and meetings with friends and relatives in most of those places. All that was accomplished in the course of three weeks until we finally landed back in Israel a few days ago at the ungodly hour of 2 a.m. OH and I have survived to tell the tale only to reach the conclusion to which the heading attests.

Our wonderlust is assuaged for the moment, and it’s difficult to say whether our sleep disturbances are occasioned by jet-lag or advanced age. The discomforts of overseas travel are many and varied (unfamiliar food, strange beds, foreign languages, cramped seating on planes, traffic jams in cities, different manners and mores, not to mention expenses of various kinds), but the overall benefit of meeting up again with friends and relatives, gaining access to the wonders of museums and art galleries, taking in a Broadway play and a symphony concert in one of the world’s finest concert halls, make all the discomfort worthwhile. After all, who can put a price on the renewal of ties of friendship and family, as well as our love of art and music?

Thoughts of the comforts awaiting us at home were never far from our minds, no matter how enjoyable the various experiences were, and that brought me to thinking of my parents and grandparents, who were forced to leave their homes and wander to unfamiliar lands or, worse still, face exile and deportation to concentration camps and death.

My grandfather who died in his bed at home in Hamburg in 1936 is now seen as ‘the lucky one,’ as my other three grandparents all died in tragic circumstances far from home. Looking at the situation in the world today, we see so many people exiled from their homes and forced to seek shelter on foreign shores. That word ‘home’ raises so many emotional echoes in my mind, and I’m convinced that thoughts of the parental home that was lost must have haunted many of those millions who sought refuge abroad, whether sent away as children on one of the Kindertransport trains or forced as adults to make their way to a sanctuary of any kind anywhere in the world. To the best of my knowledge, most of the Jewish refugees who were scattered all over the world as a result of the Nazi peril in Europe made the best of their situation, established families and contributed to society. Those who came to what was then British Mandatory Palestine helped to build the Jewish State, in an effort to ensure that there would always be a home for Jews suffering from persecution anywhere in the world.

And so, once again, an enjoyable trip abroad has brought me to think about the Holocaust and its repercussions that are still with us. It seems unimaginable that after the persecutions that the Jews have suffered throughout the generations there are still those who would deny Israel’s legitimacy, claiming that its existence has caused injustice to others. But when the pioneers first came to the country that had once been Jewish they did not seek to disenfranchise the local population but rather to live alongside it. When the fledgling State was attacked on all sides, it had no option but to fight for its life, setting off a train reaction that resulted in the mutual exile of populations (Palestinian refugees and Jews in Arab countries). Nowadays no-one pays much attention to that concept, as the Palestinians have deliberately perpetuated their refugee status in order to use it as weapon in the battle for hearts and minds, while Israel has endeavoured to assimilate and integrate its Jewish refugees.

So many expressions refer to home. Home is where the heart is. There’s no place like home. Robert Browning’s poem, ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad.’.A pop song with that title by Clifford T. Ward, written in 1973. And many others with which I’m not familiar, and doubtless written in other languages.

I consider myself fortunate to have a home to return to whenever I go travelling. I thank providence that I can still indulge in the luxury of going to foreign lands and then return home. I hope that I will still see in my lifetime a solution to all the problems of all the refugees, wherever they may be.

 

‘Jours Caucasiens’ (Caucasian Days) by Banine

 

This autobiography (published in French in 1985 by Gris Banal)  was kindly lent to me by my neighbor, who stems originally from Russia, and it was a true eye-opener regarding a time and place about which I knew absolutely nothing.

The author, who writes under a nom-de-plume, was born in 1905 into a fabulously rich family of oil-producers in Bakou, Azerbaijan. Her mother died giving birth to her, leaving her the youngest of four sisters. In the book she describes her childhood which, though lacking for nothing in the material sense, was far from idyllic.

Banine depicts the various members of her family of wealthy but uneducated Caucasian Moslems, and paints vivid portraits of each one. These include her corpulent and irascible grandmother, who spends most of her day praying and reciting verses from the Koran, intermittently cursing all non-Moslems and hurling insults at her children and grandchildren. As was the custom in those days, she wore traditional garb, was heavily veiled and spent most of her time sitting on cushions on the floor. One gets the impression that she was primarily involved in creating an acerbic atmosphere around her.

The idea the reader gains of Banine’s sisters is that they were considerably older than her, heavily-built, liberally-endowed with facial hair and generally unpleasant in mien. In addition to Banine’s immediate family, there was a large number of uncles and aunts, who were attached to Banine’s family, but seemed to be consumed by jealousy and ire of their great wealth. The author spares no-one in her accounts of the petty in-fighting within and between the various families that made up the wider clan. In addition, they all seemed to live either under the same, extremely extensive roof or in close proximity to one another. Apart from constantly arguing with one another, the adults, both men and women, spent their time playing endless games of poker, enabling the young nephews and nieces to benefit from the occasional coin disbursed by whoever was winning.

In the summer the entire family, including all the uncles, aunts, cousins, and servants, moved to their grand estate in the country, where armies of gardeners tended the gardens, woods, vineyards, pools and grounds. In the period before the Revolution, the main means of transport was by horse-drawn carriage over unpaved roads, involving considerable physical discomfort. In order to provide an education for his daughters, Banine’s father employed a German governess, Fraulein Anna, whose blond hair and blue eyes inspired the love and admiration of the young girl. Thus, the sisters were taught the basics of European languages, as well as how to play the piano and eat in a manner that befits a civilised person.

Banine and her cousins continued in this way for most of her childhood, using the grounds of their estate as a playground that most children in that part of the world could only dream of. Banine assuaged her sense of isolation by reading voraciously from the extensive library in one of the many rooms of their house. In addition, there were also occasional family outings to the sea which involved passing through the poorer parts of the district and undergoing uncomfortable encounters with distant poor relatives.

As was the custom in that part of the world, Banine’s sisters were married while still in their teens, and departed the family home, eventually settling in Paris. This left their sister feeling even more neglected and lonely. The outbreak of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution did not affect the Caucasus initially, and the area was controlled successively by British and Turkish troops. Eventually, however, the Russians gained supremacy, and the forces of Communism prevailed.

It is interesting to read Banine’s account of her encounter as a teenager with the young Russians sent to impose socialist principles on the oil-rich region, and her own realization that her family’s wealth was unjust. She even went so far as to be actively involved in making inventories of the property owned by individual families, and ended up falling in love with one of the young Russian emisseries.

Aged only fifteen, Banine was married to a much older man whom she detested, in order to enable her father to obtain the passport he needed so that he could leave Russia. As the book ends, we find that she, too, was able to leave Russia and, after travelling through Russia to Constantinople (as it was then known), and on through Europe, she was finally able to join her father and her sisters in Paris.

What happened then, we can only guess from inspecting the list of books she has translated (from Russian, German and English) into French, as well as those she has written herself. This book is written in a lively and interesting way and contains a fascinating account of a world that no longer exists.

The Longest Hatred

(image: NYTimes)

The recent tragic events in Pittsburgh took my thoughts to Professor Robert Wistrich’s seminal study of anti-Semitism. Coining the phrase ‘the longest hatred’ to denote the phenomenon, and making it the title of his book, Wistrich describes the longstanding and widespread occurrence of anti-Semitism. In a subsequent tome, ‘A Lethal Obsession,’ he traces in great and exhaustive detail the outbreak of the phenomenon across cultures, countries, nationalities and religions. Starting with the period of early Christianity, when the adherents of the new religion felt compelled to demonstrate their rejection of the ancient faith by denigrating its devotees, the book traces the many expressions of anti-Semitism throughout the ages up to the present day.

The ultimate culmination of anti-Semitism was of course the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, but the phenomenon could be found in every European country throughout the middle ages, at a time when modern nations had not yet been established in their final form. The crusades that sent countless multitudes of men across Europe to fight for the Holy Land did not spare the Jews living in the countries through which they passed, nor those in the Holy Land either. The massacres at that time of Jewish communities along the Rhine have not been forgotten. Nor have the pogroms that devastated the Jewish communities of eastern Europe and Russia in more recent times. As the countries of western Europe waged war on one another, they did not omit to oppress, slaughter and decimate the Jewish communities they encountered.

In ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Shakespeare gives his Jewish character Shylock a human face and voice when he says ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ and goes on to show that a Jew is a human being with feelings like anyone else. At a time when Jews were banned from living in England and portrayed as the offspring of Satan, subhuman and the source of all evil, to express such a sentiment was truly revolutionary. Shakespeare’s play may have been based to some extent on Christopher Marlowe’s play, ‘The Jew of Malta,’ but in that instance the main character displays no mitigating humanity and is as conniving and murderous as befits the prejudiced stereotype of the Jew current at that time.

So to accuse President Trump of being responsible for the murderous attack in the synagogue in Pittsburgh is not strictly fair. Inflammatory rhetoric is just that, inflammatory rhetoric. Whether someone commits an act of violent aggression as a result of that rhetoric or of some internal mental imbalance is immaterial. Unless the machinery of aggression or annihilation is available, or the wider situation enables acts of violence to be performed by the wider society, as was the case with the crusades, the pogroms and the Holocaust, words remain just words. It could be said that the general availability of firearms in America is to blame, and that claim does have some weight. But it cannot be denied that until this week’s attack no similar act has been perpetrated against Jews, other than isolated incidents of beatings and desecration of cemeteries.

My own experience in the Midwest of the USA brought me into contact with the underlying enmity towards Jews (and Israel) and various minorities felt by some Americans, and I have described these individuals and their activities in my recent book, ‘All Quiet on the Midwestern Plains.’ In real life, however, I did not encounter any violence, and the Jewish community was not subjected to acts of aggression.

Like many Jews in England, as a child I experienced some instances of anti-Semitic speech or acts, but nothing of any great severity. Instances of that kind may have been partly behind my decision to come and live in Israel, but many Jews, including several of my Jewish friends, have forged successful careers in England, the USA and elsewhere. They have been able to rise above encounters with anti-Semitism and even act to combat it. But who knows? Perhaps the strict gun controls in England have prevented violent actions from being committed against the Jewish community there.

All that remains is to hope that irrational hatreds can be set aside and an atmosphere of tolerance towards minorities, whoever and wherever they may be, can be fostered. What is needed is for religions and communities to work together to combat the rising tide of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment that is evident throughout the Western world. After all, the paramount aspiration repeated in so many prayers of so many religions is the desire for peace.

 

ANOTHER CONTROVERSIAL LAW

The furore surrounding the Nation-State Law recently passed by Israel’s Knesset has continued to reverberate throughout Israel and beyond, even reaching the pages of the French daily, ‘Le Figaro,’ the weekend edition of which I read when I was on holiday in France.

Since I cannot bear to be completely disconnected from Israel and events there even when I’m on holiday, I make sure to have an internet connection while I’m away. This may seem somewhat masochistic, but it’s an intrinsic part of my life wherever I am, so that being cut off from this form of communication causes me suffering to which I am not prepared to expose myself.

Thus it was that my news updates and Facebook feed while in France contained numerous messages condemning the law, claiming that it was discriminatory, contrary to the values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and even racist – all things that are anathema to any decent person anywhere in the world, and also to most Israelis. Massive demonstrations were held to oppose the law, and there seemed to be widespread condemnation of it, at least among my friends and many of my relations. No-one can accuse me of being a supporter of Binyamin Netanyahu and his party, but the significance of the article in ‘Le Figaro’ made me stop and think that perhaps the messages I’ve been receiving are one-sided, to say the least.

Headed ‘The State of Israel Will Not Be Binational!’ (my translation, his exclamation mark), the article, under the byline of Francois d’Orcival, asserts that the justification for introducing the law is that it serves to guarantee the future of the Jewish state.  Claiming that the law does not contravert the rights of the various minorities living in Israel at present but merely affirms the Jewish character of Israel, the writer underlines the confrontation between national identity and multiculturism that is becoming increasingly prevalent all over the Western world, adding that political opposition is inseparable from demographic evolution.

The sticking point, according to M. d’Orcival, is the difference in the birth rates of Arabs and Jews in Israel. Currently, Jews account for 75 percent of the population and Arabs for 18 percent. But the Palestinian Arabs have said more than once that the weapon with which they will defeat the Jews is their birth-rate, and the difference in those of the two populations seems to bear this out (4.6 percent as opposed to 3.2).

Under the provisions of the law, the official language of Israel is Hebrew and the official religion is Judaism. In England, America, France and most other Western democracies there is an official language and an official religion (the British monarch is even the head of the Anglican church), and no-one accuses them of being undemocratic on that score. If the aim of the law is to ensure the Jewish character of Israel in the future, like M. d’Orcival, I personally see no harm in that.

In the final analysis, there is no getting away from the fact that there are at least thirty Arab or Muslim countries and only one Jewish one. And we all know what happens when Jews do not have a single country that will accept them in their hour of need. Many, though not all, of the Muslim countries will not allow Jews or even anyone who has ever visited Israel to set foot on their soil. Israel has no such policy regarding members of other religions.

Sometimes it takes an objective outsider to reveal the truth of a situation, so I remain grateful to Francois d’Orcival for enabling me to see matters in a different light.

The Eagle has Landed!

It’s a very metaphorical eagle: my latest book, ‘All Quiet on the Midwestern Front; a Tale of Deception, Betrayal and Vindication,’ which has been two years in the making and has now been published on Amazon and is available as an ebook and a paperback. It is my longest book so far, numbering just under 500 pages, and I only hope that readers will enjoy the ride. Like my previous books, this one has a cover based on a water-colour painting of mine that has been admirably produced by my talented son Eitan Shefer. The picture shows a quiet suburban street with an ambiguous – possibly threatening – figure in the foreground.

The book describes the events that befall Avi Samuels, an ambitious Israeli scientist who is spending a year in Seabrook, a sleepy university town in Nebraska, only to find that the head of the department seems to be hostile towards him, while articles and letters from readers in the local newspaper proclaim rabidly anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic, opinions. Despite these and other setbacks, Avi is determined to do good scientific work while he is in Nebraska.

Avi’s wife, Rachel, suffers from boredom and loneliness at first, though the wife of the head of the department tries to provide her with some company. However, Rachel does not feel comfortable with the lady’s overbearing personality, and it is only when she starts going to art classes at the local community college that she starts to find an interest in life. The main focus of her interest is the art teacher, Duane, who seems to be equally attracted to Rachel, and so the inevitable love affair, with all its complicated ramifications, ensues.

Rachel and Avi’s children, teenage twins, one of each gender, encounter difficulties at school, finding the American education system alien and complicated, and the students unfriendly. In addition, they have to contend with language and cultural differences that place them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the system. Their frustration eventually lands them in trouble and it is only after the school principal intervenes that they are able to come to terms with their new life.

The reader is made privy to the machinations of the Brotherhood, a group of rabidly racist individuals who are plotting to bring death and destruction to minority groups in Seabrook and the rest of America. Whether the head of Avi’s department is involved in this or not is one of the strands that constitute the plot of the book.

Various other characters move in and out of the narrative, with Avi’s colleague and neighbour, Tom Friedman and his wife Nancy, featuring prominently in the events described in the book. Some of the university’s cleaning staff also play a role in helping Avi overcome the various setbacks he encounters as he seeks to make a scientific breakthrough in his chosen field.

The Nebraska climate also plays a part, and determines to a considerable extent what happens to the various individuals.

As the book comes to its conclusion, the various ends are tied up, the scientific breakthrough may or may not have been achieved, and the plot to sow death and destruction throughout America appears to have been foiled. At least for the moment.

I hope that everyone reading this blog will buy a copy, whether for Kindle or to hold in their hand, and if they write a review on Amazon my gratitude will know no bounds.