Lest We Forget


Amir between two jailors

In Israel these days, a big debate is raging about Yigal Amir. Amir, for those of you who don’t know or have forgotten, was the guy who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin back in November 1995. Sentenced to life imprisonment, since then he has been in jail. As, by law, he deserves be. To avoid misunderstandings, let me repeat the last sentence: as, by law, he deserves to be.

The occasion for the debate is a newly produced documentary about his life. Should it, or should it not, be subsidized? Should it, or should it not, be shown? Is it, or is it not, “educational” (as Voltaire might have said, “education” is the last refuge of the scoundrel)? In my view, the fact that Amir has committed a crime and is being punished for it does not mean that he should not be allowed to have his say. Let alone that others should not be allowed to think, say and write about him. Just as they please.

Questioned after the deed, Amir maintained that there was nothing personal in it. He had never hated Rabin. To the contrary, he rather liked the man. They did in fact have some things in common. To wit, honesty and a certain kind of shyness. The reason why he acted, so Amir, was because he feared the Prime Minister would follow up on the Oslo Agreements and allow the Palestinians to establish a State in the West Bank and Gaza. That, in Amir’s view, was against God’s Law as well as a mortal danger to Israel.

I do not know anything about God’s Law. However, in this belief, about Rabin allowing the Palestinians to set up a State Amir was probably wrong. When Rabin died he no longer had a majority in Parliament. Chances are that he would have had to call new elections. And that he would have lost them to Likud. Which, at the time, was headed, for the first time, by a young leader by the name of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The documentary shows how Amir was brought up in a national-religious family (his father was a Torah student, his mother ran a kindergarten). He did his military service in an elite infantry unit and went on to study law at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. He chose it because its official ideological stance resembled, and sill resembles, his own. It holds that Israel should be a religious state and that it should never, ever, surrender the Occupied Territories. At the university he came into contact with a group of similarly-minded young people. Though just how much they knew about his intentions remains moot.

Since then Amir has been in jail. Allegedly for fear he would “influence” other prisoners—an idiotic idea, if you ask me—he spent the first seventeen years of his sentence in an isolation cell. His every move was monitored by CCTV. In other ways, too, he was being tormented and, in comparison with other murderers, discriminated against. I have seen a clip; you might think he was some kind of cockroach. It made me gag. Not at the man, but at the way he was being treated.

As a practicing Jew, Amir believes that it is his duty to leave offspring, preferably a boy, behind him. Making use of some peculiarities of Jewish Law and exploiting the stupidity of his jailors who did everything they could to stop him, he succeeded in marrying Larisa Trembovler, a doctor of philosophy. They had met when he was teaching Judaism in Moscow; later she divorced her husband for his sake. He even succeeded in forcing the State to allow them to have intercourse. She became pregnant and gave him a son.

The film also shows his life in prison. Particularly moving is a section where, using the phone, he reads his son a story. When the child asks why he is in jail, Amir answers that it is because he had done something that is prohibited by law. That, in my view, is a hero. A man who does not allow the force of circumstances to break him but copes with them as best he can. All the time, thinking not just about himself but about others as well.

But this is not about Amir alone. It is about freedom. If not outer freedom, which Amir does not have and probably will never again have, then inner freedom. Never once in the entire twenty years that have passed since 1995 did Amir say that he regretted what he had done. Never once did he apologize, never once did he grovel, never once did he ask for mercy. In so doing he kept the most important thing in life. To wit, his inner freedom; the right to be what he is without asking anyone or anything for permission.

Of Stalin’s USSR, the Nobel-Prize winning writer Aleksander Solzhenitsyn wrote that the only ones who enjoyed freedom in it were the inhabitants of the GULAG. Modern Israel (and not just Israel, but that is another matter) is, thank God, not quite as bad. However, as the debate about the film shows, it is bad enough. What really makes people mad at Amir is not what he did. It is the fact that, by his courageous behavior, he is showing his jailers, the police, the security services, the justice system, the State, most Israeli politicians, and large parts of the Israeli public that they have no power over him.

I myself am neither religious nor a supporter of “Greater Israel.” I most certainly do not condone Amir’s deed. But I do think that the petty abuse to which the State, by way of its justice- and prison system, has been and is subjecting Amir on a daily basis should stop. After all, Rabin’s blood was no redder than that of anyone else. Hence Amir should be treated like any other convicted murderer. And that should include the possibility of an early release. Which, in Israel, is usually granted after twenty years.  

Last not least, I believe that, in a certain way, the fact that people like Yigal (the name, incidentally, means “he who will redeem”) Amir exist is a blessing for society. And not just for Israeli society either. That is because, in a world where freedom of speech, the most elementary there is, is being increasingly limited day by day, he is one person who, amidst all his suffering, still has what it takes to be free and hold it up for the rest of us to see.

Female Viagra

Female frigidity, to call the inability to reach orgasm by its proper name, has a long history. Two thousand years ago the great Roman poet Ovid noted it existence. Here is what he has to say about it:

Let the woman feel the act of love to her marrow,

Let the performance bring equal delight to the two.

Coax and flatter and tease, with inarticulate murmurs,

And if nature, alas! denies you the final sensation

Cry out as if you had come, do your best to pretend.

Really, I pity the girl whose place, let us say, cannot give her

Pleasure it gives to the man, pleasure she ought to enjoy.

So, if you have to pretend, be sure the pretense is effective,

Do your best to convince, prove it by rolling your eyes,

Prove by your motions, your moans, your sighs, what a pleasure it gives you.

Ah, what a shame! That part has its own intimate designs.


410djHsphPL._AA300_I am not a physician and cannot speak about the causes of the problem (although, in my experience, physicians, even in their own field, often spout at least as much nonsense as anyone else). As I read the most recent news about preliminary FDA approval of a female “passion pill,” though, I thought it worthwhile to remind readers of what Simone de Beauvoir had to say about the matter. For those of you who have forgotten, de Beauvoir (1908-1986) was a French writer and is widely considered the mother of modern feminism.

First, a little history. Like many other feminists from Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) and Betty Friedan (1921-2006) down, de Beauvoir grew up in a middle-class family whose male head found it hard to provide. Consequently he became the object of his wife’s resentment and complaints. Determined never to be in her mother’s position, the dutiful daughter, as she later called herself, decided to stand on her own economic feet. Meaning to become a teacher, she directed her studies toward that end.

In 1929 she met Jean-Paul Sartre, then a student and later a famous intellectual. She fell in love and wished to marry him as the only man she considered worthy of her. He, however, did not think he could be faithful and was honest enough to tell her so. That led to the famous pact under which each of them was free to do as he or she pleased, as long as they told one another everything. If she could not have him entirely for herself, at any rate she could share his adventures.

From this point on de Beauvoir was forced to keep up with her soulmate’s petites camerades. She would have been inhuman if she had not resented the arrangement. In her first novel, She Came to Stay, the main character, based on herself, ends up by murdering her competitor. Though de Beauvoir had several affairs, she was unable to find love with others. Approaching her fortieth birthday, she had still not discovered the true joy of sex. From what we know about her it seems that, like so many others in her position, on occasion she faked it. No wonder that, over time, she and Sartre lost their sexual interest in each other.

In the end, de Beauvoir was rescued by an American writer, Nelson Algren. She met him while touring the United States in 1947. Perhaps being far from home, and the sense of freedom such a tour can bring, helped. For several years they kept up a relationship. In The Mandarins, which was produced not long after her affair with him ended and which is autobiographical in all but name, she wrote: “His desire transformed me. I who for a long time had been without taste, without form, again possessed breasts, a belly, a sex, flesh; I was as nourishing as bread, as fragrant as earth. It was so miraculous that I didn’t think of measuring my time or my pleasure; I know only that before we fell asleep I could hear the gentle chirpings of dawn.”

Now that she was no longer handicapped by her personal problem, de Beauvoir found the courage to write about the essence of womanhood. The result was The Second Sex (1949), a best-seller that shook the world. In it she delved into the topic of frigidity. I quote:

״Resentment is the most common cause of feminine frigidity; in bed the woman punishes the man for all the wrongs she feels she has endured, by offering him an insulting coldness. There is often an aggressive inferiority complex apparent in her attitudes… She is thus revenged at once upon him and upon herself if he has humiliated her by neglect, if he has made her jealous, if he was slow in declaring his intentions, if he took her as a mistress while she wanted marriage. The grievance can flare up suddenly and set off this reaction even in a liaison that began happily… Frigidity… would appear to be a punishment that woman imposes as much upon herself as upon her partner; wounded in her vanity, she feels resentment against him and against herself, and she denies herself pleasure.״

Many men, de Beauvoir continued, suffer “torment” from their wives’ failure to be sexually responsive. And what starts from an inability to climax, she noted, might easily result in women refusing to have any sex at all. Meanwhile “many married women find amusement in confiding to one another the ‘tricks’ they use in simulating a pleasure that they deny feeling in reality; and they laugh cruelly at the conceited simplicity of their dupes. Such confidences may often represent still more play-acting, for the boundary between frigidity and the will to frigidity is an uncertain one.” “In any case,” the oracle of feminism concluded, “they consider themselves to lack sex feeling and thus they satisfy their resentment.”

To expand a little, frigidity—or “female sexual dysfunction” as it is often called today—has nothing to do with physiology. Millennia of attempts to discover its medical origins have failed and continue to do so. Neither anatomical problems (such as “too great” a distance between the clitoris and the vagina, as many early-twentieth century physicians thought) nor imperfect hormonal balances provided the answer to the riddle. It is, as the saying goes, all in the head. A head which, in too many cases, had been turned by all kinds of tales women tell themselves and each other about the deeds and misdeeds of those terrible creatures known as men.

Such being the case, I wish the women who take the new pills the best of good luck. And those who manufacture and sell them, fat profits. But I bet anyone that, as far into the future as anyone can look, the problem will remain exactly as it is.

For Whom the Bells Toll

bashar-al-assadFor Bashir Assad, the bells have been tolling. If one believes the media, he and the regime he represents are on their last legs. Whether or not that is true is not at issue here—similar predictions have been heard ever since civil war broke out in Syria four years ago. What I do want to do is take a look at the origins of the war, the way it has been going, and what the future may look like in case the predictions come true.

The decisive fact about the Assad—meaning, in Arabic, “Lion”—family is that they are Alawites. The Alawites are a section within the Sunni tradition. They do not, however, form part of the mainstream. Some Islamic scholars do not even regard them as Muslims; claiming that they are basically pagans who worship the moon and the stars. The community is scattered among Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. It is, however, only in Syria that they form a significant minority, counting perhaps one seventh of the population. That explains why Bashir’s paternal grandfather, Ali Suleiman al Assad (1875-1963), supported French colonial rule. He and his fellow Alawites knew well enough how majority Muslims deal with minority ones.

Suleiman’s son Hafez made his career as an air force officer. In 1963 he took part in a coup that brought the Ba’ath, a party that professed a curious mixture of secularism, nationalism, and socialism, to power. In 1966 he co-authored another coup, this time one that took place inside the Ba’ath leadership; in 1970, following a third coup, he assumed power as a military dictator. He did not, however, do much to change the nature of the regime. The latter remained what it had been. An amalgam of secularism, nationalism, “Arab” socialism; and of course the kind of brutal police state which seems to be more or less the only kind most Arabs understand and can live under.

Assad Père governed Syria with an iron fist. In 1973 he and Egypt’s Sadat launched a massive war against Israel; the way he and most Arabs understood the outcome, it was a major success. To be sure, it did not return the Golan Heights to Syria. But it did increase Assad’s popularity and helped consolidate his rule. When civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1976 he played a major role in the conflict. Supporting now this militia, now that, at one point he made himself the de facto ruler of the country. So much so, in fact, that not even a major Israeli invasion of Lebanon succeeded in dislodging him for very long.

Assad’s greatest challenge came in early 1982. It took the form of a Sunni—Sunnis form just under 90 percent of Syria’s population—uprising against his Alawite, secular rule. So bad was it that, for several months, it looked as if he the regime was about to disintegrate. In response Assad had his troops, commanded by his own brother Rif’at, surround the city of Hama where the head of the snake was located. Opening fire, Rif’at turned much of it into a sea of ruins. Later reporters asked Rif’at whether he had really killed 25,000 men, women and children. Looking them straight in the face, he answered that he had probably killed more.

From that time on Assad no longer faced any serious opponents inside Syria. Though his troops withdrew from Lebanon in 1990, he remained a major player in the complicated ethnic politics of that country. The same applied to his son Basher who took over in the year 2000. Both Hafez and Basher tried to negotiate with Israel in an attempt to reach a deal that would return the Golan Heights. To no avail. Both Hafez and Bashir supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, causing Israel endless trouble along its northern border. Both were themselves supported by faraway Iran which provided arms as well as training. However, being concerned above all with the stability of their regime, neither launched a major war against anybody. To that extent they were a stabilizing factor in the Middle East.

In April 2011 civil war broke out. As in 1982, the perpetrators were mainly Sunni Moslems, combined with a sprinkling of “liberals.” Bashir used his army to respond in kind. However, unlike his father he was unable to quell the rebellion, causing it to go on and on. To-date, the death-toll is estimated to approach a quarter million people. Millions of others have fled, mainly into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. There is nothing very special about any of this. To the contrary: in the absence of democracy violence, great or small is simply the way Arabs normally use to settle their political differences.

What is remarkable about the conflict is not so much the butchery as the way the ropes are drawn around the rink. Assad Jr.’s only supporters are Iran, which does not want to lose its right-hand man on the Mediterranean, and Russia. He has, arrayed against him, practically the entire world—including most Arab countries, Israel and the West. Some of these actively assist his opponents; others pray for them day by day. They do so in spite of the fact that most of those opponents are associated with the kind of militant Islamic movement that, over the last four decades or so, has wrought havoc wherever and whenever it appeared; in Lebanon, Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and, most recently, Yemen. Not to mention any number of other countries all over the world where its troops have engaged in terrorism, including the single largest terrorist act of all time. And notwithstanding the fact that, as experience shows, it is only strong Arab dictators who are able to hold Arab countries together and keep them from causing even more trouble for themselves, each other, and the rest of the world they already do.

Much the most important of the numerous militias that are trying to unseat Assad is IS, also known as Daesh. Truth to say, Arabs have never been exactly famous for the gentle way they fight their wars. Daesh, however, prides itself on being even worse than most. That is why, writing on this site, I have called it “The Monster.” Why any kind of regime, Arab, Muslim, Israeli, or Western should support Daesh and its fellow Sunni militias is a riddle that does not have a solution. Unless, of course, that solution is simply called stupidity.

To repeat, Assad is not a nice guy. He and his Alawite cronies have plenty of blood on their hands and are going to have lots more. Nevertheless, his ties to Hezbollah and Iran notwithstanding, on the whole he and his regime have been stabilizing factors in the Middle East. Should Assad fall, then the consequences may well be unimaginable. The first to suffer will be Syria’s Alawites or, at any rate, those of them who have not yet fled. Having sustained the regime for so long, they are going to face genocide on a scale that may make that committed by the Turks on the Armenians a century ago blanche. The same applies to other minorities such as the Druze and the Shiites. But Daesh does not want to rule just Syria. It wants Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Yemen as well. Whether or not it succeeds, in the short and medium run that means destabilization, terrorism, guerrilla, and civil war. In Iraq and Yemen, all this has already happened. Do we really want the same to happen in other countries too?

In the face of all this, it is high time for countries, leaders, and people to reconsider and stop ringing the bells for Assad’s funeral. Rather than trying to hasten his fall, they should finally agree to take for what he is: namely, the devil we know.

Or else.


Here They Go Again

berlusconi_silvioFor several decades now, female Congress staffers have complained about being subject to “sexual harassment” by their usually male, usually elderly, often (they say) lecherous bosses. To prevent it from taking place, they have demanded and got all kinds of precautions. Now that people have got used to those complaints and do what they can to avoid them, the women are looking for new ways to draw attention to themselves. With success: their latest complaint is about being “shut out” of one-on-one meetings with the same bosses. Nor are they the only ones. Corporate women and women working for the universities have been heard saying the same thing.

Having been a university professor for over forty years, I have some experience in the matter. When I started teaching back in 1971 the idea that male and female students were exactly the same, had exactly the same rights and duties, and should be treated exactly the same way was taken for granted. So much so that nobody ever thought of it or spoke of it. I used to spend some of my time at cafeterias etc, talking to both male and female students. In fact it was partly in the cafeterias of the Hebrew University that my former student and wife of over thirty years, Dvora, and I courted. Since then not a day has passed on which both of us do not bless the Lord for allowing us to meet, fall in love, and move in together long before all this nonsense got under way.

Since then, things have changed. Any professor who meets a female student anywhere, for any reason, and under any circumstances without a chaperone must be out of his mind, crazy, nuts. The least he can do is use a CCTV. But take care: there will be complaints, this time about the loss of privacy. Again I have some experience in the mater. A few years ago I caught a female student who had plagiarized a seminar paper she submitted. I asked her—per email, of course, not in person—for an explanation. A lively correspondence developed in which she failed to convince me she had not stolen her paper, word by word, from some official Israeli documents. In fact I was able to find the paper she had used on the Net, at one of those sites that sell papers! Seeing that I remained unconvinced, she repeatedly asked for permission to visit me. And I, suspecting a rat that may or may not have been there, repeatedly refused. In the end I had no choice but to inform the university. What, if anything, has happened since then I have never been able to find out.

And so it goes. Here are a few examples out of thousands that might be named. Forty-something years ago women first started working on the assembly lines in Detroit. When they were not given as much overtime work to do as their male colleagues, they complained. When, in response, they were made to do obligatory overtime as those male colleagues were doing all the time, they also complained. Their contradictory demands drove the Union of Automobile Workers, which incidentally financed some of the early feminist efforts, to distraction. More recently many women have been heard complaining that the demands of their career are forcing them to postpone childbirth and that, as a result, they have difficulty conceiving when they finally decide they are ready to do so. But when Apple proposed to pay for extracting the eggs of its female employees and keeping them refrigerated so that they might be impregnated at any moment, they also complained.

Long ago, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that everything about women was a mystery and that the mystery has one answer: pregnancy. I myself would modify the sentence as follows: everything about women—real women, not masculine half-women—is weakness. And those who are weak have but two possible ways to go: either charm, or else complain.

That women are weak hardly needs to be pointed out. They are weak in the sense that they do not have the physical strength of men. They are also weak in the sense that they are less robust and, owing to their anatomy, less resistant to dirt of every kind and more exposed to infectious diseases. At no time more so than when they are pregnant or lactating. These facts mattered a great deal when most of humanity was still living on the farm and scratching the earth. Now that most of it spends its days in front of computers they still matter; though perhaps—perhaps—in a slightly different form and to a slightly different extent. Or else, why don’t we find any number of women in any of the most physically demanding, dirtiest, most dangerous occupations?

Had women been exposed to the full rigors of “the struggle for existence,” as men are, they would not have survived even for a single generation. Nor, of course, would humanity. Conversely, if women did survive then that was primarily because they succeeded in charming men, marrying them, sleeping with them (not necessarily in that order) and bearing children for them.

Women who, for one reason or another, did not succeed in charming a man to look after them complained. Men are supposed “to take it,” as the popular saying goes. Should they complain, then they are almost certain to be either despised or ridiculed. The situation of a woman is entirely different. Her weakness, real or perceived, means that her complaints are much more likely to be taken seriously by men and, though perhaps to a lesser extent, women (women know how good their sisters are at putting on a show). Especially if she makes sure that her femininity, in the form of a cleavage, shows just a little bit; and especially if she opens the waterworks and makes them speak for her.

Nowadays women who know how to charm seem to be a vanishing minority. Nowhere more so than in the US where, truth to say, they have always been somewhat scarce. More and more, the field is dominated by the majority who complain instead. The more aggressive among the complainers call themselves feminists (the term, incidentally, was coined by a man, Charles Fourier, in 1837). Their whole life is one long complaint about the disadvantages from which they allegedly suffer. By complaining, though, all they do is emphasize their own weakness. That is why, fifty-two years after Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, the vast majority of the top positions society has to offer still remain in the hands of men.

So it has been. So it is, and so, in spite of fashionable literature about the decline of the male, it will be for all generations to come as long as there are still men and women on this earth. Perhaps, considering the alternatives—such as Plato’s Republic, where neither men nor women are allowed to know their own children—it is better that way.