The Fourth Reich is Rising

The Fourth Reich is rising. Not in Germany where, in spite of the recent elections, most people seem to have has learnt their lesson. But in Israel. The country which claims to be the only one in the Middle East which is democratic and in which free speech is allowed (nice of the authorities to allow free speech, isn’t it?). The country where my parents, having narrowly escaped the Holocaust, (see on this my post, “How My Family Survived the Holocaust,” 17.12.2015) immigrated. The country in whose military four of my five children have served. The country for which several of my relatives, acquaintances and students have died. The one in which I have spent practically all my life and which I have always loved.

No longer. For almost two years now a 33-year old Arab-Israeli (and self-proclaimed Palestinian) poet, Ms. Dareen Tatour, has been under house arrest. Far from home and relatives, with electronic cuffs on her leg, and without access to either a computer or a cellphone. Her trial got under way in April 2016, and has still not come to an end.

Did she kill an Israeli? No. Did she try to kill an Israeli? No. Did she assist terrorists or fail to betray them to the Israeli authorities, as those authorities, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, demand? No. Did she engage in any other out of God knows how many activities Israel has prohibited? No. So what why did the police knock on her door at 0400 in the morning, and what are the charges which could cost her eight years in jail?

Saying what she thinks. As by putting the following poem, originally written in Arabic, on Facebook.

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil,* they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali** called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.


* Hadil al Haslamon, a 18-year old Palestinian girl who attacked—so the Israelis claim—a group of bullet-proof wearing, heavily armed, heroic Israeli soldiers with a kitchen knife and, like so many others, somehow managed to die after being shot “in the legs.”

** Ali Kosba, a Palestinian teenager who threw rocks at an Israeli military jeep, shattering its windshield. Trying to run away, he was shot in the back and killed by a heroic Israeli colonel who, according to the military spokesman, “felt in mortal danger” of his life.

Two Articles Caught my Attention Last Week

Last week being international women’s day, two articles caught my attention and drove me to do a little more research. One dealt with the fact that, as of the early years of the twenty-first century, in only a handful of fields do women make more than men. The other argued that most women—between two thirds and three quarters of them, in fact—prefer men who are taller than themselves. How to explain these facts, and what do they mean for the present and the future?

lioness-and-lion-love-i12First things first. In a previous post (“Women Outperforming Men,” 10.12.2015) I noted that, in most of today’s “advanced” countries, women make about two thirds as much as men do. As best we can calculate, that figure has not changed much since at least the time of ancient Rome. Indeed it has been claimed that, should present trends continue, women will need another 177 years to draw level with men. The article that caught my attention claimed that men out-earn women not just in general but also in almost all professions separately. Out of three hundred professions on one list, only in ten do women make as much as, or more than, men. That applies even to fields that are overwhelmingly dominated by women, such as teaching.

This is strange. Normally being a minority means being discriminated against, which in turn leads to lesser earnings. So why do men, who in the teaching profession are outnumbered by about two to one (U.S figures), earn more than their female colleagues? A mystery—or perhaps, given the physical advantage men enjoy even in the most sedentary professions such as being a professor of history, not so great a mystery after all.

That brings me to the second article. Women’s preference for tall men is easy to explain. As I also pointed out in a previous post (“The Indispensable Sex,” 11.2.2016), among many mammalian species, primates included, it is the task of the males to defend the females and their young. Even at the cost of their lives, if necessary. The fact that it is lionesses which do the hunting does not contradict this arrangement. If male lions do not leave the home but stay with the kids, then that is because they alone can protect them against predators. To enable male mammalians to carry out their appointed task, nature has made most of them considerably larger and stronger than their female counterparts. In the case of lions it has also given them their powerful roar. The larger and more powerful a lion, the more attractive he is to females and the better his chances of having multiple offspring.

The difference in size, known as dimorphism, is easily visible among humans as well. Only a small minority of women are as large as the average man. True, humans are less dimorphic than many other mammalians. But the difference between the sexes is sufficiently large to put most women at the mercy of most men. That, incidentally, is why much of the advice that tells women to practice “self-defense” is misguided. Should they try, then usually the outcome will be injuries. It also explains why, starting when they are toddlers, boys are always warned against hitting girls. Even if, as often happens in early puberty, they are larger and heavier than them. Doing so is considered “not nice” at best and can lead to serious consequences at worst.

Part-HKG-Hkg10109760-1-1-0But there are other repercussions as well. Many “less advanced” societies do not have strong police forces. Instead it is the task of the male members of each clan to protect their own womenfolk. That is why women are subjected to so many restrictions. Such as prohibitions on leaving the home, taking up work outside it, and, in Saudi Arabia, driving. When they do these things they are obliged to cover their bodies and faces and/or take on a male escort. A woman who stays inside, or who is escorted when she goes out, is less vulnerable to sexual assault and the consequences it may bring. So is one who instead of wearing provocative clothing, hides her face behind a veil.

Against the prevailing social and cultural background, all these measures make excellent sense. Thanks partly to the police, partly to what a famous twentieth-century scholar used to call “the civilizing process,” life in the West today is relatively secure. As many researchers have pointed out, the number of crimes per 100,000 of population has been declining for the last two centuries or so. That, incidentally, is one reason why the death penalty is being reserved for more serious crimes, and used much less often, than was the case before 1800. Still women before they need anything else need security. Something tall men, big men, strong men, can normally provide better than weak men, small men, short men can.

Let’s assume, as I, on the basis of the research I did for a number of my books do, that the best days of Western liberal democracy are behind it. And that, as a result, the future is likely to see civil society upset by growing crime, terrorism, and various combinations of the two. In that case women will need protection more than ever. In Europe, where wave after wave of Muslim immigrants are arriving, this is already happening. No doubt men will do their best to provide that protection. But they will do so at a price: to wit, obedience and the inequality it implies. Not necessarily because they are oppressive by nature, as so many feminists have foolishly claimed. But because you can only protect those whom you control.

To put it in different words, were feminism and women’s lib spawned by a relatively peaceful world that is even now coming to an end? If so, what a pity. It was a nice try.

On Blogging*

bloggingThe opposite is also true. I blog, therefore I think. It is now almost two years since I started doing this. Except for one five-week period when technical problems prevented me from posting, I have done so week in, week out. The present piece is No. 94. A good time, it seems to me, to stand still and look back.

First, has blogging taught me anything? No and yes. No, in the sense that, over the years, I have published enough opinion pieces in enough papers and magazines around the world to know how to do it. Or so I hope, at any rate. For those of you with no experience in the field, here are a few simple rules.

Make sure you know exactly what you want to say, and say it. Keep it short and, if you can, snappy. Use short sentences and short paragraphs. For heaven’s sake, don’t use jargon. Above all, don’t go for academic, especially social science, writing with its endless strings of abstract, not seldom incomprehensible, nouns following each other like beads on a string. Don’t try to impress people with your learning—usually, doing so all you will achieve is bore them and make them stop reading. It is in knowing where to stop that true mastery reveals itself. Always try and find a nice picture to illustrate what you have to say.

Yes, in the sense that I have discovered that there is no knowing which of your pieces is going to be the most successful. You leave your desk, or close your laptop, thinking that you have written a particularly interesting piece. But the stats, which I look at from time to time, show you that you have missed the boat and that no one cares. You think that you have written a so-so piece—perhaps because you were not feeling very well, perhaps because you just did not have the time. But all of a sudden the stats explode. After two years it seems to me there is just one remedy. Keep typing away. Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot one day. Or not.

When I say jackpot, I do not mean money. Except that some readers have gone to in order to take a look at my books, so far I have not made a penny on my blog. Given the restrictions on free expression that are sure to follow if you allow advertising a foot in the door, I am not even certain I would like to do so.

Unlike many other bloggers, and contrary to the advice of some, I have not restricted my posts to a single topic or field. Many of the topics I address I get from the daily press. Others reflect issues I have been contemplating for some time past and wanted to get off my chest. A few, notably the ones about nuclear proliferation, resource wars, Russia and China reflect the things I have discussed with my students in class. For making me think, I thank them.

As I have written more than once, I get quite some feedback. A few of the emails are offensive, even obscene. Pay attention, you yahoos out there: I ignore them and will continue to do so in the future. The rest fall into two main categories. Some readers like my pieces and ask permission to re-post them, either in the original language or in translation. Usually I go along; but not before asking my correspondent whether he (so far, no she) would like to reciprocate by posting something on my site in return. Several have.

Then there are those who want to argue, usually over some point linked to my views concerning women and feminism. Those I provide with brief answers; brief they have to be, or otherwise I won’t have time for anything else. Here and there a critique is sufficiently interesting to catch my attention and make me engage in a little more research. Whatever others may feel or think, for me the feedback is very important. Quite often it makes me think of things that have never occurred to me before; so let me take this opportunity to thank those who provide it.

Finally, why do I do it? Being a fairly well known academic, over my lifetime I have published dozens of books in twenty different languages. I have also been interviewed by numerous TV stations, radio station, magazines and newspapers around the world—so many that I have long stopped counting. Not to mention articles I myself wrote.

Generally I enjoyed doing all this. Yet nothing gives me the sense of freedom which, sitting down week by week, I have when working on my blogs. Freedom from the kind of control many editors will impose on your work. Freedom to say what I want, on any subject that comes to my mind, in the way, and at the time; and freedom to do so regardless of the laws Israeli ministers and MKs, to their eternal shame, are trying to pass.

To abuse a famous quote, give me freedom, or give me death.

* I wish to thank my stepson, Jonathan Lewy, who not only takes care of all the technical arrangements but has provided the idea behind this particular piece.

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.