It was agonizing being a Jew in Spain when Israel invaded Lebanon, when it attacked Gaza and when it shot the Turkish boat. I was against those three acts, as I felt that Israel was over reacting and responding with much more violence than it had received. Still I had a feeling that the tremendous anger of many in Spain was too targeted towards Israel and Jews in general, that it had an antisemitic undertone.
Now that I see how Spain doesn’t react in any comparable way to the massive killings of Syrian civilians by Bashar Al Assad, in a war that has already left over 25K dead, I am coming to the conclusion that I was right, many in Spain are just antisemitic.
It is not that Israel does not commit injustices, it does. And it is estimated that around 1000 people died in the Gaza attack and around 1300 in Lebanon and that is way too many, especially since most were civilians. So I want to make it clear that I opposed those wars.
But the number of casualties in Syria is shocking in comparison and nobody in Spain has done any demonstrating comparable to the massive protests against Israel. Because it was incredible how much Spaniards went to the streets to protest against Israel on each of those three events. I had to hear people call me “genocidal” just because I am Jewish, call all Jews Nazis and other attacks. My children were harassed at school over these incidents as if all Jews were part of them. Still I thought that I had to be understanding because Israel was committing injustices.
But now that I see how little people care about Bashar Al Assad killings I am coming to the conclusion that if Israel kills it’s huge news in Spain, now, if an Arab dictator does commit something that is closer to the definition of genocide however, there are no massive demonstrations in Spain. But if Israel boards a Turkish ship it is front page news and material for huge demonstrations. Not that Spaniards are physically violent because they generally are not, but they are extremely vocal in their dislike of Israel. A Spaniard will say horrible things about Israel and about Jews and it will feel normal. Indeed in Spanish of Spain (not of Latin America) calling somebody Jewish is an insult.
I love Spain but if there is one thing that it is hard in this country is to be Jewish, something that only 1 person in 2000 is. There is tremendous prejudice. Spain is a country in which most have opinions about Jews but most have never met a Jew in person. I wish more went to Israel and then see that while Israel it is clearly a country that has to improve a great deal is is light years ahead of its neighbors.
For the record I have visited Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.
Here’s an article I wrote in Spanish about the challenges of being Jewish in Spain http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2008/07/21/lapurezaestaenlamezcla/1216636800.html
Here I emphasize that there is a great deal of cultural prejudice in Spain and it is not at all only a Jewish problem.
Here is a survey of Antisemitism in Europe that ranks Spain very poorly.
We are in Sagaponack, NY. Nina, Leo and Mia went to see the Southampton 4th of July parade. I am sick in bed with a bad summer flu. I stayed in bed watching a Game of Thrones marathon. I am on Season 2 Episode 4. I almost never watch TV but I do enjoy TV series. I watch them mostly during flights off my iPad. And now because I am sick and can’t stop coughing I watch them in bed. By now, I have probably watched over 10 hours of Game of Thrones over the last 3 days.
Game of Thrones has a great deal of sex and people talk about that, but sex is nothing compared to the amount of violence it depicts. A violence that it is at the limit of what I can stomach, as when they kill a baby off a woman’s arm. But the story is good and I am hooked. At this point anything that makes me forget my flu is welcome. Still, I suffer as I watch the most violent scenes. When I watch these horrors, I remember the child in myself saying, this is just a movie, this is just a movie. But then, during a break I read the news. The real news. And I see this. A very Game of Thrones real life story going on right now in Syria as Bashar Al Assad tries to stay on his throne and goes on a killing rampage. Reuters reports.
Video clips showed rotting corpses lying in dried pools of blood in dark hallways, their faces covered with flies. One showed a woman and her child prone in a living room. The activist narrating the video said they had been stabbed.
A third video displayed pieces of charred flesh which activists said were severed genitals.
“There was more here yesterday,” said a man wearing plastic gloves.” “But the dogs were taking them.”
So now my defenses stopped working. I think about what is going on in Syria, a country I visited in 2003 and found it quite attractive. Here are my pictures of that trip. I can’t imagine how those who appear in them are doing now in this horrible civil war. Why would Bashar al Assad, a man who trained to be an ophtalmologist in London and his wife Asma al-Assad who was born and raised in the UK and has a degree in computer science go on murder rampages to stay in power?
There is still a lot of Game of Thrones around us. The middle ages are still here.
I am Jewish and I can’t understand why attacking Iran over the threat of nuclear is a great idea. It’s not that I believe what Iran says. Of course they will develop nuclear weapons, but also Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And Pakistan is a very unstable country and we live with them and their weapons. And India, a country which most of us find easier to live with, has had to live with Pakistan, their weapons and their terrorists.
Pakistan is a country ruled by people who like us but populated by people who mostly hate us, and I don’t mean hate Jews, but the whole West, India and China. Polls show that in the mid 00s most Pakistanis liked Bin Laden as a leader. And some clearly liked him enough to give him shelter for so many years. And this is a country has nuclear weapons and we tolerate it. And Israel and maybe EU and USA are planning to go to war with Iran because they may have nuclear weapons and be where Pakistan is today. Going to war with a country because it will have nuclear weapons is hardly a way to increase world security. Why didn’t USA go to war with USSR when they developed nuclear weapons? Why didnt we go to war with North Korea whose lunatic leadership is far worse than the Iranian leadership. In each of those circumstances we estimated the cost of war to be greater than the cost of preventing nuclear proliferation. North Korea for example, could already wipe out a third of South Korea with conventional artillery, in the face of that threat, we let them go nuclear. I am sure the South Koreans would prefer another neighbor, but they do what they can given the circumstances. Even after a nuclear Iran, Israel’s situation won’t be as bad as that of South Korea at war with a nation that borders it and can destroy it with conventional and nuclear weapons and threatens to do so very frequently. Plus Iran is a threat to Israel already through its proxy armies of Hezbollah and Hamas. But Syria was partners with Iran and another serious threat to Israel under the leadership of Bashar Al Assad and look at where he is now, exterminating his own people, hated by his own people. Qaddafi said there was going to be a Middle East without Israel and we ended having a Libya without Qaddafi. I think there is enough evidence that Iran is going in the same direction. Preventive warfare is flawed. It’s a doctrine that says that because you may not like war in the future you start a war now. We squandered trillions of dollars of USA and EU money with this doctrine, and precious human lives, and achieved nothing. Anyone doubts that Saddam Hussein would have survived the Arab uprisings? If we intervene we should so so to tip the balance, not to go as an invasive force trying to conquer, police and rebuild a nation for a decade. It’s wrong and we can’t afford it.
Nuclear weapons have this weirdly positive aspect to them that their utilization is so serious, so incredibly harmful, that those who have them so far in history have stayed put. It’s as if their owners developed a deep sense of nausea just about having them. The only exception in history, is of course USA, who whether we like it or not, was the only nation brutal enough to overcome their nausea and use them. Probably because nobody had used them before and the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not on anyone’s minds.
I think that we should all put more hope in the people of Iran. Iran is the opposite of Pakistan, a country ruled by people who hate us but populated by people who are fed up with them and like us and our lifestyle. Every protest in Iran seems to be about people who want to be free and a government who puts them down. So we should not give these freedom seeking people who almost overthrew Ahmadinejad, a real reason to hate us. And let’s remember that under attack everyone becomes a nationalist and sides with whoever is the dictator who rules the country. From a Jewish point of view, now that the Muslim world is finally focused on their problems attacking Iran would be to go for the limelight at the worse possible moment.
We should accept that this situation is ugly, confusing, tough to deal with and there no easy answers. And for Israel attacking Iran a country of 80 million people that is twice as big as France and far away is a daunting task, nothing like the Operation Babylon of 1981. Israel, USA, EU, should continue with covert operations and other tactics that are short of war, and put all sorts of pressures to show how great life would be for all if Iran stops. But at the same time we have to learn to live with our fears, accept that Iran may go nuclear, and focus on promoting a change of leadership that is more aligned with the Iranian people and our interests.
Last Friday was the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan invasion. Why we are there is beyond my comprehension. We have killed so many innocent people, both our own soldiers who we sent to a hopeless war and countless innocent victims of our bombardments. We are at fault, both Europe and USA. Why did we stay in Iraq beyond overthrowing Saddam and in Afghanistan beyond overthrowing the Taliban? EU and USA are not meant to invade countries for decades and try to administer them. Why did we not wait until they had their Arab uprising as so many other countries? I can understand the use of military force in Libya, to tilt the balance without invading, to provide air support. But to invade, police, stay for a decade, be responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, accomplish nothing and waste trillions of our own savings is barbaric.
As a Jew I want to see a Palestinian state. I just don’t know how to guarantee that this state will not be Hamas controlled and focused not on its own success but the destruction of Israel. Gaza has been a terrible example of what may happen in all of Palestine. And at the same time I think the Israelis are so in the wrong for allowing more settlements. Having said this, if those people are fanatics who want to be in Palestine I think the Palestinians should keep them and tax them. The GDP of the 300K Israeli settlers may be as high as that of the millions of Palestinians. Why chase them away?
I am debating with too many people on Twitter. I give up. Most people seem to believe that EU and USA went to war in the Arab countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya because somehow we are making money doing so. They don’t get it that Europe and USA lost trillions in these wars. That their people, their economies… lost trillions and a horrible sacrifice of human lives on all sides. That yes there are some minor beneficiaries of this disasters like some people in the military industry and military contracting but that for the economies of USA, UK and some EU countries have been wasting $3 trillion only in Iraq as you can see here. And this is madness. Most on my twitter stream believe that somehow we will get paid back. How? Stealing their oil? Well that will never happen and should not happen. Did Saddam or Gaddafi not want to sell oil? Because now we get somebody else to sell us oil at $107 per barrel is that enough reason to invade Iraq? If all we wanted was to buy oil we would not go to war. We went to war because of some idiotic reasoning in the case of Iraq and some smarter reasoning in the case of Libya (where we invested much much less, worked with Libyans and got what seems to be like a good outcome). We went to war because we believed that toppling people who kill their people and sometimes foreigners with oil money don’t deserve to be in power. But the Iraqi money and human lives spent in the Iraq War are gone for good. We should have done nothing in Iraq, Saddam had nothing to do with Al Qaeda and he would have fallen like Gaddafi did, at a much smaller cost if we had waited a decade.
Libyans look like they are in horrible shape, and as they finish their civil war they are. And we are all happy Gaddafi, while still at large, is not in power. But unlike anything you can imagine, Libyan finances are not that bad. Libya is no Egypt. They have over $200bn in assets of which $165bn are abroad. They are only 6 million people and have no national debt. As a result each Libyan has assets of $30K. Americans instead have around $50K of debt per capita and Europeans $30K. But Americans and Europeans, paid dearly for the liberation of Libyans, not as much of course as the failed wars of Iraq and Afghanistan but still significant. Should us in EU and USA stop fighting other people’s wars and focus on rebuilding our economies? I think so. We should emulate George W Bush who had everyone contribute to the cost of the Gulf War and as a result it was short and relatively inexpensive as described in the first link. My view is that from now on, if we deal with wealthy nations like Libya I think we should only intervene only to tilt the balance and only if we get repaid. And in cases in which true humanitarian reasons are at stake we should do this together with many nations and sharing the costs.
When they say there can be no peace between Israelis and Palestinians they are mistaken. There is “peace” already or at least there is no war. During the last 2 years relatively few people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (268 since January 2009 to be exact – out of which 45 were Palestinians killed/executed by Palestinians), and I say “relatively” because this is in great contrast with Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and many other areas of the world where tens of thousands have died. As a comparison, in USA alone 41,000 people die every year in car accidents. Indeed it is more likely to die in a car accident in USA than at war if you are a Palestinian or an Israeli.
During my visit to Israel I was surprised to see how many Palestinians actually live in Israel, this is something that is not well known outside of Israel. Arabs constitute about 20% of Israel’s total population. At the Tel Aviv beaches for example, the blend is magic. You see Israelis surfing next to Arab women who go into the water fully dressed. And some actually swim fully dressed. I had never seen anything like that. Israelis and Arabs, side by side, sharing their free time at the beach. I hope this is part of what the peaceful future of Israelis and Palestinians will be like.
If you compare other armed conflicts with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will see that while this is the one with the most media attention globally it is surprisingly the least deadly. I took the time to make a comparative chart based on the estimated number of casualties (including civilians) that can be found on Wikipedia. In most cases the spread between high and low estimates is very large, but the figures give a good general idea of the order of magnitude of each conflict. Of course it would be a mistake to focus only on the number of casualties when comparing different armed conflicts, there are many other factors to be considered, such as the number of indirect deaths, the number of displaced people, the amount of psychological damage caused, the long-term effects on the affected regions, just to name a few. And it is true that the Palestinians suffer many humiliations in their daily life like for example when they try to travel from Gaza to the West Bank or even around the West Bank. But casualties is still a clear measure of war.
I hope this post is not understood as an attempt to minimize the important of the conflict. I sincerely hope that something like the Oslo Accords gets implemented in the near future so the Palestinians can have their own country. While the situation now is not a war, it is not a solution either. But it is important to put things in perspective and realize that Palestinians in Israel and in the Palestinian territories do not live in what we would normally call a war.
Here’s the chart I made:
And here are a couple of pictures I took at the beach during my visit that illustrate what I saw in terms of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying the sea side by side.
To end this post, I leave you with this video I shot during a helicopter ride around Israel. What became very apparent in the helicopter ride is that the paradox of the Palestinians is that they are either in Israel or near Israel and that Israel is so developed compared to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, namely other countries in which Palestinians live, that it is not surprising that the Palestinians would want Israel as it is now. It is hard to say to what point do they want to go to the land of their ancestors and to what point they much prefer the greatly improved land of Israel of today. Indeed it is possible that if the Israelis had done with their country what the Palestinians did with Gaza and instead the Palestinians had reached the level of development in Gaza that Israel has now, that few Palestinians would be wanting to move to Israel or ask that a Gaza looking Israel be returned to them. Before many Israelis wanted the West Bank and Gaza, now few do. So Israelis have mostly given up the hope of a greater Israel. Only the Israeli fanatic settlers still want a Greater Israel. What people never say in this conflict is that this is not a conflict about the Biblical Israel or the Palestine of the 1920s. This is a conflict about what Israel is today and what Palestine is today. And the contrast is drastic. And it is hard to argue what the Palestinians argue that if they got Israel that it would be what today we know as Israel in terms of prosperity and economic development. I have a hard time imagining Israel being the country outside of USA with most Nasdaq traded companies or Nobel Prizes if it was Palestine. This is what happens when people’s past is so different from people’s present.
Lastly I would like to say that while I blame Israelis for not wanting to negotiate with the Palestinians now and I dislike the current position of the government of Israel vis a vis negotiations I think the Palestinians had a great opportunity in Gaza and by electing Hamas after settlers were forced out by force from there they escalated the conflict and made it hard for Israelis to feel comfortable about removing settlers by force from the West bank.
Jerusalem has many teenagers, say 18 yr olds, armed with machine guns, both boys and girls. While I understand this may be necessary I find it creepy and wrong. And what is worse is that my 4 year old boy who is here with us is fascinated with guns, something that I am trying to discourage but it’s not easy with boys that age. As he sees these other “kids”with machine guns he goes and talks to them, asks them if he can also have a machine gun to play with. They laugh but I worry.
On a more positive note here are some pictures of Jerusalem which overall is a fascinating place to visit. But the second picture shows my son Leo admiring the young soldiers.
Tonight I had dinner with Shoresh Moradi, a Kurdish surgeon who was educated and lives in Sweden and practices medicine at the Karolinska Hospital. During dinner in Palma de Mallorca, he told me a few moving stories of how his patients react when, instead of getting a Swedish doctor in the emergency room, they get a dark skin Arab looking man, himself. His were stories of prejudice, the prejudice that he has to deal with as an emergency room surgeon every day of his life. Interestingly, in most cases this prejudice is overcome and patients somehow go through a transformation after entrusting their lives to a perceived Muslim doctor. And I said perceived because Shoresh is Muslim in culture more than religion, very much in the same way that I am Jewish. We are both proud of our heritages, but we can also see the inequality in the treatment of women and Goim or infidels, that extreme religiosity entails both in orthodox Judaism and certain flavors of Islam as backwards and damaging to society.
During dinner we spoke about the paradox of prejudice in Europe and we agreed that it had to do with the way immigrants came to Europe. In Europe, immigrants are chosen by the exact type of job they do and that’s what their visa says. So for example an immigrant may come to Spain as a household worker and his visa will allow him or her to do just that, be an “empleado del hogar”. Europeans have no problem publicly arguing that the best jobs should be reserved for natives. This type of discrimination is not seen as prejudice. Americans instead have a system that seeks out immigrants with great qualifications and so do a minority of EU countries like Ireland for example. As a result, in most of Europe, it is immigrants who have the worst jobs and what is worse, they are then blamed for their lack of achievement, a situation that is most unfair considering how they were pre-selected to do them. Europeans conclude that people from those countries where immigrants come from are mostly inept. Now the ultimate paradox is what happens when these immigrants, while driving taxis or cleaning offices, actually go to university and end up, like Shoresh Moradi, as surgeons. Then the prejudice is even worse, as women patients, for example, believe that a Muslim doctor will treat them poorly and it is up to Shoresh to explain how this is not the case. It’s happened to him that he had to justify himself many times ahead of a procedure, or that he had to go in person to interviews in order to try to overcome the fears that his name inspires.
So Shoresh and I both agreed that while poor and unsuccessful immigrants face prejudice, successful immigrants face even more prejudice. Not from the educated elites, but especially from the average citizen in an atmosphere of anonymity (think Youtube comments). The type of citizens that end up voting for anti-immigrant parties. So in the end, both Jews and successful Muslims in Europe suffer a similar prejudice. This prejudice was taken to an extreme in the Holocaust, and is even worse than the prejudice against those who do poorly; it’s the prejudice against those who do very well. Jews have traditionally been detested, not for doing badly but for succeeding. For being one in 500 people in the planet but having one in 5 Nobel prizes or many of the top positions in the billionaires lists, or top writers, or movie makers. And this is still the case in many places in Europe, much more so than in USA where I lived for 18 years before moving here. And yes, we can go about our lives being successful, but in Spain, France and many other countries in Europe if being rich is not well regarded, being a rich Jew or a rich Arab is worse. And this is the other curse. The curse of escaping poverty and finding that prejudice was there all along and remains. If you do very badly you face prejudice because you are a loser, but if you do very well and end up in an “unexpected spot” that defeats the stereotype, there you find an even tougher type of prejudice, the one that confronts Shoresh ahead of many a life saving surgery or me when a newspaper in Spain called me “judío especulador”. If you have doubts about what I am saying and speak Spanish simply google “judío Varsavsky” and read the first 30 results.