Bibi Netanyahu: Israeli Disgrace and National Tragedy

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is currently one of the most reviled, enigmatic, and long-lived politicians in Israel’s nearly 76 years of nationhood.

He is the son of Ben Zion Netanyahu. His father was a distinguished Judaic scholar and world expert on the Spanish Inquisition and the Jews. Ben Zion was also an ardent and uncompromising Zionist.

Bibi’s older brother, Yonatan, was the slain, iconic war hero of the Entebbe rescue operation. Had “Yoni” not been tragically killed in action, it is unlikely than Benjamin would have risen to the top of Israel’s political hierarchy.

Yonatan was the golden boy and favored son in the Netanyahu family. He was a born soldier, scholar, and patriot. As an officer in Israel’s most elite commando unit, Yoni was considered by many in the power structure to be destined for important leadership roles in both the military and national government.

Bibi was the middle Netanyahu son. He spent his high school years in suburban Philadelphia where his father was teaching. He then returned to Israel to do his mandatory Army service . Afterwards he returned to the U.S. and earned a degree from MIT in Architecture and a master’s degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Bibi worked for the prestigious Boston Consulting Group after his studies. He would have most likely gone onto a very successful and lucrative career as a well connected international corporate deal maker. But he had to fill the shoes of his dead big brother and the expectations of iron-willed father.

As the old Yiddish proverb states:

“Man plans and God laughs...and the rest is just commentary.”

The best analysis that I have come across of Netanyahu’s role in the catastrophe that befell Israel and world Jewry on October 7, 2023, is by Edward Luttwak.

Luttwak is a Jewish-Romanian-born, American author known for his works on grand strategy, geo-economics, military history, and international relations. His books are currently published in 29 languages besides English. He participated in the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt with the Israel Defense Forces.

This excerpt is from March 20th edition of “Unherd,” an iconoclastic British online magazine of culture and politics:

Netanyahu was once a very decisive politician who set Israel on the path to techno-prosperity as a revolutionary finance minister two decades ago. And he had been an equally decisive soldier, serving for five years instead of the obligatory two and a half, fighting hard in Israel’s premier commando force in dozens of combat actions.

But he has not been a decisive war leader. His political trajectory is a story of declining authority, propped up by ever more marginal and objectionable elements within Israeli politics.

Even though this premiership is relatively new, beginning in December 2022, this is his 17th year as prime minister, a job he held twice in the past. And as a result, he is viewed by a great many Israelis; as well as politicians in the US and Europe; with that particular disgust reserved for leaders who remain in office even as their abilities wither.

He has achieved this through political bargaining, forming successive coalition governments, each including more extremists than its predecessor. Proportional representation has long opened Israel’s parliament up to ultra-religious and hard-Right parties; but it takes a particularly unscrupulous prime minister to let them slip into government. And desperate to cling on, Netanyahu’s political pragmatism has devolved into pure expediency.

Netanyahu, in other words, is willing to bring any parliamentarian into government with him if that will allow him to stay in power. And that is how Israel was lumbered with its current coalition, which handed political power to figures like Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist whose jingoistic support for settlers in the West Bank borders on the messianic, and who has called for the full occupation of Gaza.

Such fantasies do not have any influence over military planning; Israel’s generals are Left-of-centre if anything. But they upset the moderate majority at home and serve anti-Israel propaganda abroad, leaving Netanyahu an empty figurehead, and splintering Israel’s coalition of international support.

View the Bibi Netanyahu folio »

Post October 7th – The Hard Realities

Since the October 7th massacre in Israel, I have easily read over 100 learned articles by serious scholars and pundits with impressive academic and professional backgrounds. And I’ve patiently listened to hours of podcasts on the subject of the Israel-Hamas war.

The bottom line is that no one knows what is going to happen next. There are simply too many players and variables. We are in terra incognita — an unknown and unknowable place in world history.

Nonetheless, the human brain tries to make sense of things — to make a plausible model of reality to act upon. Otherwise, we would likely be paralyzed by fear or simply go mad.

To try to condense and clarify the morass of words and pictures simmering in my skull from both mass media and online sources, I have come up with the following eight points that I believe to have some kernel of hard truth in them. 

They were arrived at with a very knowledgeable Israeli-American friend over a period of about two months. Here they are for your consideration:

Iran currently has the power to endanger Israel, even without nukes, through the actions of their proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The most serious threat is posed by Hezbollah, based in Lebanon and funded and armed by Iran. They are estimated to have close to 150,000 rockets and missiles, about one-quarter of which could reach all parts of Israel.

The U.S. and other global powers could manage to live with an Iran armed with nuclear weapons.  All the Iranians need to do to facilitate their survival is keep their oil flowing at reasonable prices, not interfere with global shipping and refrain from openly antagonizing the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

The manipulation of global public opinion is often financed by Qatar and other Arab nations, with Qatar-based Al Jezeera being an especially efficient tool towards that end. Its worldwide broadcasts are dominated by blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist programming, which continues to make daily life increasingly difficult and unsafe for Jews everywhere to openly express their opinions. Given the current international political climate, this could result in increasing challenges for Diaspora Jews to advance to positions of influence and power.

Israel is the only hope for Jewish continuity and consciousness. Given current trends and the continuing growth of anti-Semitism, Jewish communal life in Europe could be nearly non-existent by 2050, and South America could go the same way. Jewish communities in North America could be much smaller and less influential than in the recent past.

The failure of the Israel Defense Forces and security services to anticipate and prevent the Hamas massacre has severely damaged their reputation, both in global mass media and online social media.  Their former repute as Jewish Spartans and James Bonds has been shattered, resulting in the emboldening of anti-Semites around the globe.

Despite legitimate concerns associated with global warming and climate change, dependence on oil could easily last another 50 years. This ensures that hundreds of billions of petrodollars will continue to flow into the coffers of Sunni Arabs, Shiite Iranians and nihilistic Russians. Their war of ill will against Western democracies and Israel can be easily financed and escalated for decades to come.

The ever-popular ‘two-state solution’ is based on an absurdity and is totally misunderstood by the global players who advocate it.  A Palestinian state would be a base for terrorists bent on destroying Israel and could easily be co-opted by its so-called Muslim brothers and sisters.

As long as the violently anti-Zionist mullahs control Iran, there will be constant threats to Israel’s security. Therefore, Israel must succeed in defeating Hamas in Gaza and rebuilding its military strength and reputation. Power through strength is the only way to survive in the Middle East.

Hands of Grief & Defiance: Volodymyr Zelensky gestures to the world

War is always a tragic catastrophe…especially for Jews in the Ukraine.

Scholars estimate about 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 Ukrainian Jews died during the Holocaust.

Most were murdered by Nazi firing squads, often aided and abetted by both Ukrainian paramilitary personnel and civilians. Most of the executions of Jewish mothers, fathers, children, and the elderly were in plain sight of their Christian neighbors.

Like many American Jews, I have family connections to these "blood lands". My maternal grandmother's family fled Odessa around the turn of the 20th century for Chicago. My paternal grandmother's family fled Berdychiv (about 90 miles outside of Kyiv) at around the same time to farm in North Dakota.

None of them ever looked back.

There was no sentimentality about the "Old Country" or what they were leaving. There was no concerted effort by my elders to transmit the Yiddish language or stories of their lives in the Ukraine to their American-born progeny.

When my grandparents occasionally spoke Yiddish (the common  language of Eastern European Jews) in front of the grandchildren, it was to make sure that we did not know what they were saying.

When I see the Ukrainian-Jewish comedian and TV personality Volodymyr Zelensky heroically leading this historically anti-Semitic nation against an unprovoked invasion by a brutal Russian Army, I am astounded and inspired… but not fooled.

Zelensky is a historical fluke. Being a widely popular television celebrity confers political influence that can lead to power—as in case of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.

The Ukrainians want advanced American and Israeli military weapons now, as well as so-called "Jewish Influence" on their nation's behalf with both the American and Israeli governments later down the road. 

The mainstream U.S. media estimates about 5.4 million Ukrainians have fled their country since the Russian invasion over two months ago. How many Ukrainians have actually died at the hands of the Russian army is unknowable during a time of active conflict and massive media warfare.

At this point, plausible fatality estimates range from 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 3,000 civilians to several times that. But it appears unlikely that the present combined military and civilian death toll surpasses 30,000 out of a total population of 41,000,000.

A historical perspective is important when looking at the current war.

Approximately 6,850,000 Ukrainians died during WWII (with about 1,650,000 being soldiers). Previously, in 1932-33, an estimated 3,900,000 Ukrainian peasants were intentionally starved to death by Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. He was trying to both collectivize their small family farms and destroy their national identity and culture.

In a televised and digitally dominated 21st century world, the war in Ukraine is made deeply resonant to hundreds of millions people across the globe. We can empathize with the suffering of brave, freedom-loving, and innocent Ukrainians being bombed, shot, raped, and tortured.
In America we are saturated with these horrific images and voices of carnage in a 24/7 news cycle.

War is hell…

But it is a much smaller hell than in times past for both Ukrainian Christians and Jews.

What appears most dangerous and alarming to me is the obvious lesson from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Namely: nations without nukes are at the mercy of nations with nukes.

It is important to remember that the Ukrainians voluntarily gave up their substantial nuclear arsenal about 30 years ago to Russia in exchange for a written non-aggression treaty.

This historical folly is apparent to all—even to a layman like myself.

It motivates countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia to get the bomb no matter what price must be paid. A nuclear “umbrella” is essential for both national sovereignty and survival in today's world. 

And, it motivates both Germany and Japan to seriously re-evaluate their public posture regarding nukes. It is widely assumed that both nations could produce them at a moment's notice if the perceived need arose.

China and Taiwan are getting a stark crash course in the permeability of national boundaries in an era no longer dominated and mediated by an all-mighty American military and economic colossus.

This brief video that I produced on grief and defiance is nominally about Prime Minister Zelensky and Ukraine.

But it is really about human resilience in the face of state-sponsored aggression and oppression.

And the precarious place it leaves all of us.

The Warsaw Ghetto and its Uprising: An Artist's Musings 79 Years Later

The German Army crushed the doomed Jewish uprising on May 16th, 1943 after a month of heroic resistance by young Ghetto fighters.

It is an event meticulously documented by both Nazi military administrators and Jewish historians within the ghetto itself.

In the historical narrative of World War II, the Warsaw Ghetto is a relatively unambiguous footnote.

Outside of Israel, the tragedy is of little to no interest to anyone—even to Diaspora Jews living in the United States.

About 20 years ago, I heard a secondhand story about a distinguished Holocaust historian who was interviewed by a member of the mainstream press. The reporter asked the scholar if there were any relevant lessons for today's young people from the Holocaust.

There was a pause, and the sage sardonically quipped—"I hope not."

Alas, there are some very obvious contemporary lessons and warnings for both Jews and Gentiles.

  • Jew-hatred knows no bounds—especially in Europe.
  • Education and high culture do not cure violent anti-Semitism—but often inflame it.
  • If Jews cannot or will not actively defend themselves, they will likely end up dead or marginalized.
  • Memories of our ancestors make us who we are—wherever we are.

My online Warsaw Ghetto art gallery was something of a catharsis for me. There was a release and relief from strong repressed emotions. Creating art is widely believed to be a therapeutic tool for coping with fear, depression, and anxiety.


It is my hope that these deeply disturbing images of inhumanity in the Warsaw Ghetto will in some small way help you reclaim your own humanity in a world still very much plagued by the mass murder of innocent civilians, pestilence, and sadistic cruelty.

View Warsaw Ghetto Gallery

Artist statement: March 4th, 2022

My last name is Barancik.

I have been told by Polish friends that it means little ram.

It is also a pejorative term for a stubborn "block head."

Many friends would agree that it is an appropriate surname.

According to both family lore and, I have the DNA of an Ashkenazi Jew from Poland and Eastern Europe. I have always had a deep feeling for their music, graphic art, literature, food, and humor.

No surprise there.

As a young man, the stories of I.B. Singer's prewar Jewish Poland resonated deeply in my subconscious mind. Forty-five years later, I still can clearly recall the master Yiddish storyteller's choice phrases and all-too-human characters from a vanished world.

Likewise, with the photographs of Roman Vishniac.

He documented the prewar Jewish villages, towns, and Jewish sections of cities just before the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and the subsequent genocide of around 3,000,000 Polish Jews. 

Vishniac and Singer gave me voices and visions that became seed crystals that grew into a large body of creative work over the decades. This includes paintings, prints, handmade artist's books, and videos.

This online folio contains a video that I produced in 1999 and digital prints that were just finished last week.

Before exploring the online artwork and new media, I suggest that you read the short essays by Dr. Abraham Peck and David Kriebel about the Warsaw Ghetto. It will help you to put the imagery into a historical context.

Dr. Peck is an eminent Jewish scholar, who was born to Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors in a displaced persons camp after the end of World War II. The family emigrated to the United States when he was a small child. In his short piece, Abe looks at what the Warsaw Ghetto could mean to young, contemporary Americans.

Dr. Kriebel is an anthropologist with deep family roots in the mid-Atlantic section of America. He looks at the Warsaw Ghetto largely through the lens of my art.

Here is a web link to both essays:

I would like to end my brief artist's statement with a quote by Matthew Baigell, an art historian who has thought deeply about Post-Holocaust art and artists. 

It came to my attention decades ago and I often refer back to it for understanding my creative journey:

"Making art about the Holocaust is a personal way of witnessing, of commemorating…and questions about how one should or should not proceed are really irrelevant. There is no 'proper" point of entry into any sort of narrative about the Holocaust, no appropriate way to establish a bond between the dead and the living or between the past and present."

Contact Bob Barancik
cell+text: 215.964.3937

Web Gallery:

Trump’s Capitol Insurrection as Radical 1960s Street Theater

Trump’s Capitol Insurrection as Radical 1960s Street Theater—with real guns and goals.

“If you can remember the ’60s you weren’t there.” (Anonymous)

I entered college in New England in 1968 as a fresh-faced freshman from the Midwest—just in time for the most tumultuous year of a genuinely tumultuous decade.

The Anti-Vietnam War movement was in full swing, as was the Black Power movement, the Feminist consciousness-raising movement, the Free Love movement/The Pill, the Environmental movement, the Psychedelic turn-on-and-drop-out movement, the Back-to-the-land commune movement, the Transcendental Meditation guru movement, and more.

This was later augmented in the 1970s by the Human Potential movement such as Esalen Institute, EST (Erhard Seminars Training), and the New Age movement of “love, light, & spirit”. I lived in Palo Alto and Berkeley during that less-than-beguiling decade.

My deep and sustained immersion into the American Left counter-culture scenes in elite university towns did not turn me into either a radical or a Yuppie with a taste for cocktails, crudités, and revolution à la Che Guevara.

Rather, that “age of discontinuity” made me into a confirmed skeptic of Utopian schemes, human perfectibility, and anyone trying to provide enlightenment for a price.

What I saw from roughly 1968 to 1981 was a lot of academic posturing for the imminent revolt of the masses, emanating from the safe and secure tenured faculty lounges of the ivory towers… and savvy, streetwise con artists manipulating the naive for their own financial gain and, often, sexual gratification.

Basically, these radical entrepreneurs and self-appointed leaders were like televangelist “prosperity preachers” for the over-educated and privileged.

Read more

Neo-Confederate Insurrectionists: January 6th, 2021

This post was written on Memorial Day 2021 (Monday, May 31st, 2021).

On Memorial Day, many Americans remember their relatives who died or were injured defending our democracy and ideals of freedom. They might even visit a cemetery where a fallen family veteran rests or take part in a small patriotic parade.

But most Americans will just be having a backyard barbecue or taking a day trip to the beach or public park. Or watching professional sports on tv. It is a three-day vacation in a time of a receding pandemic and the beginning of summer.

The surreal, violent, and ultimately unsuccessful insurrection by mostly middle aged, middle class, mostly educated, white Americans is back in the news as the Republicans refused to allow a non-partisan investigation of the activities on and around January 6th. The insurrectionists believed that their leader, Donald Trump, was cheated out of a second term in the Oval Office by a deliberate fraudulent miscount of ballots masterminded by the Democratic Party.

And they were going to make spectacle of their grievances for the media.

Read more

I Am Your Leader

This short digital slideshow explores the serious basis of leadership in a humorous way. The soundtrack was produced as part of an organizational development program for middle managers over two decades ago. The art was created at the start of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2016. Mixed together, they produce both a laugh and a shudder.

Yellow Vests of France: Protesters, Populists, and Anti-Semites

In November of 2018, France erupted with a series of unexpected, disruptive, and seemingly spontaneous marches and riots.

It was more a series of flash mobs driven by social media than the typically French political uprising led by a cadre of charismatic leaders and ideologues.

The activists wore bright yellow reflective vests, the kind often worn by both construction and emergency workers.  

There was no visible public relations firm behind this brilliant visual branding. It was ideal for a digital, viral world fixated on smartphones and laptop computers.

Read more

More than 5 years after BP Deepwater Horizon, effects of oil spill linger

The BP Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig made history. In September 2009, it drilled the world’s deepest oil well, over six miles deep, in the Gulf of Mexico. Built in 2001, Deepwater Horizon was an ultra-deepwater semi-submersible drilling rig leased to BP Petroleum from 2001 through the fall of 2013. It was built for Transocean, the largest offshore drilling contractor, and it worked with a Transocean crew.

In February 2010, it began exploratory drilling in the Gulf’s Mississippi Canyon in water 5,000 feet deep. The rig had finished cementing steel casing at depths over 18,000 feet.

In the final drilling stages, a geyser of seawater erupted onto the rig, followed by a mix of mud, methane gas, and water. An attempt was made to activate the blowout preventer, which failed, as did the blind shear arm, a component of the blowout preventer designed to seal off the well in case of a blowout. The gas ignited into a series of explosions, then a firestorm.

The rig blew up on April 20, 2010, killing 11 of the 126-member crew and creating an environmental disaster of historic proportion.  The oil spill continued until July 15, 2010, when it was capped. It was declared officially dead on September 19, 2010.

The spill was the worst US environmental disaster.


  • This accident spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil. The oil is still not gone. While most oil evaporated, dissolved, or dispersed, studies in 2014 and 2015 found that up to 10 million gallons remain on the ocean floor.   
  • The oil spill contaminated more than 1,100 miles of Gulf coastline, at least 1,200 square miles of the deep ocean floor, and 68,000 square miles of surface water.
  • At risk were eight US national parks, over 400 marine species that live in Gulf islands and marine lands, and migratory birds.   
  • Estimates of lost tourism dollars were projected to cost the Gulf coastal economy up to $22.7 billion through 2013.
  • The incident brought out 48,200 responders, including 7,000 Coast Guard personnel.
  • A 2011 study using NASA and NOAA data showed that toxic compounds from the spill became airborne and significant amounts came onshore as rain, explaining why people on the Gulf Coast reported raining oil and dispersants.  

Marine Life

  • Commercial fishing in the Gulf is estimated to have lost $247 million as a result of fisheries that closed following the spill.
  • Traces of oil in the zooplankton show the oil compounds may be working their way up the food chain. They are eaten by baby fish and shrimp.  The plankton foraminifera died wherever there was an oil plume, further putting the Gulf’s food chain at risk.
  • A federally funded study from early 2014 found that low concentrations of crude oil may impact developing fish hearts and cause irregular heartbeats, cardiac arrest, and effect swimming ability in Atlantic bluefin tuna, which spawn in the Gulf. Other large fish, like swordfish, were also affected.
  • A 2014 government report on bottlenose dolphins in an area of Louisiana that experienced heavy and prolonged oil exposure found that 65 percent were seriously ill, dying, or not expected to live. These conditions were significantly worse than with dolphins studied in area unaffected by oil in Florida.  The longest and largest die-off of Gulf dolphins occurred, but deaths recently began to decline.


  • Nearly 1 million coastal and offshore seabirds are estimated to have died as a result of the oil spill.
  • Two years after the spill, 90 percent of pelican eggs contained petroleum compounds and 80 percent contained an agent used in cleaning the spill. Pelicans nest in the Gulf of Mexico. These agents can cause developmental abnormalities and reproductive problems.

Economic Costs

  • BP agreed to pay $2.4 billion and Transocean agreed to pay $1.4 billion for violations to the US Clean Water Act in 2013.  
  • In July 2015, an agreement was announced in which BP would pay $18.7 billion for Clean Water penalties, natural resource damage claims, and economic claims. It includes:
    • A civil penalty of $5.5 billion under the Clean Water Act, paid to the US.  
    • $7.1 billion to the US and the five Gulf states for natural resource damages, in addition to the $1 billion already committed for early restoration.
    • $232 million will be set aside to be added to the restoration interest payment to cover any further natural resource damages that are not yet known.
    • $4.9 billion over 18 years to settle economic and other claims made by the five Gulf Coast states.
    • Up to $1 billion to resolve claims made by over 400 local government entities.
  • BP also set up a fund of $2.3 billion for the seafood industry, of which $1 billion had been paid out as of December 2013.
  • Halliburton set up a $1.1 billion settlement fund to compensate businesses and property owners affected by the spill.
  • In 2010, BP agreed to pay Florida $25 million to promote its coastline, and $15 million more each to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Environmental Threats from Oil Wells in the Gulf of Mexico

  • In the past 60 years, 50,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf. Of these, 23,500 have been permanently abandoned and 3,500 were temporarily abandoned.  
  • An additional 3,200 oil and gas wells classified as active lie abandoned, with no cement plugging to help prevent leaks, posing an even greater risk to the environment.
  • The unused but officially active wells means at least 60 percent of the 50,000 wells ever drilled in the Gulf have been left with no routine monitoring for leaks. The metal and cement lining inside abandoned wells, as well as the plugs can break down over time and leak. Petroleum or corrosive brine, which is saltier than seawater, can leak from under the sea floor and harm sea life.
  • After the Deepwater Horizon accident, the Obama administration required oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf to plug the 3,500 temporarily abandoned wells and dismantle about 650 production platforms that are no longer used. However, it involves using the same inadequate sealing technology.

Additional resources

Deepwater Horizon Reading Room:

Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team Releases Final Report:

Offshore Oil and Deepwater Horizon Social Effects on Gulf Coast Communities:

Blogger Raif Badawi, arrested in 2012 for creating Liberal Saudi Network website, remains imprisoned

“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified.   ... [The Saudi] faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”  – Raif Badawi, May 2012, shortly before his arrest

Raif Badawi, 31, and his sister Samar, 33, are human rights activists from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Their mother, one of 14 wives, died of cancer when they were 11 and 13. The following year Samar began to run away to her uncles to escape her father’s beatings and verbal abuse. She was repeatedly returned home since her father was her guardian.

Samar married but their father continued to intervene in her life, which contributed to the end of her marriage. She moved in with Raif. The father brought suit against Samar for disobedience and she countersued that he refused to allow her to marry. She was jailed for six months before her guardianship was granted to an uncle. She married Walid Albukhair, her attorney who later represented Raif. Samar continued to fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and in 2012 was given an International Woman of Courage award from the U.S. State Department.

In 2002, Raif married Ensaf Haidar. He began a website, Liberal Saudi Network, to encourage social and political discussion on topics such as freedom of religion, free speech and women’s rights.

Raif was detained by Saudi authorities in 2008 on charges of apostasy (renunciation of a religion), which carries the death penalty, but he released after questioning. He left the country after being charged with having a website that insults Islam and returned after charges were dropped. The government then forbade him to leave the country. Ensaf’s parents went to court to try to forcibly have them divorced on the apostasy charges.

His comments questioning the religious establishment continued to drew the attention of authorities:

“As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics.” - August 2010 

Raif was charged in 2011 with using electronic media to insult Islam and arrested in June 2012. His wife and three children sought political asylum in Quebec, Canada. In July 2013, Raif received a sentence of 7 years and 600 lashes for running a website which "violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought." The website was closed down. A charge of apostasy was added that December.  The Washington Post wrote:

“He got two extra years in prison for ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the religious police. What did he say? According to Amnesty International, one of his articles thanked the morals cops ‘for teaching us virtue and for its eagerness to ensure that all members of the Saudi public are among the people of paradise.’ Satiric, certainly, but worthy of time in prison? Hardly. “

Raif appealed the sentence but lost. In May 2014, he was re-sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes to be administered over 20 weeks, and fined $266,000.

Two months later, his attorney, Walid Albukhair, was sentenced to 15 years for establishing Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi human rights organization. The court found Walid guilty of "undermining the regime and officials", "inciting public opinion," and "insulting the judiciary.” Samar is prohibited from leaving Saudi Arabia.

Raif’s first flogging was administered on January 9, 2015. Handcuffed and shackled, he was led to the center of a square in front of a mosque after Friday prayers. He was caned across the back and legs 50 times in 5 minutes. In a letter from prison, Raif wrote that he was “surrounded by a cheering crowd who cried incessantly ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great)’” during the whipping. He added, “All this cruel suffering happened to me because I expressed my opinion.”

Raif has not been flogged since because medical teams have said that he has not healed from the flogging. His wife said, “He’s in a poor condition. He suffers from high blood pressure but above all he is mentally very stressed.”  Ensaf added that Raif said the international solidarity gives him renewed strength

The United StatesCanada, Germany, Sweden, Britain, the United Nations, and Amnesty International have all condemned the flogging. Saudi Arabia responded that it "does not accept any interference in its internal affairs." It said that its judiciary is impartial and independent, and the kingdom's constitution, based in Islamic law, ensures human rights.

It is possible that Raif may be tried for apostasy. While the criminal court lacks jurisdiction in capital cases, a new ruling by the Supreme Court now allows such jurisdiction. The case would be referred to the same judge who sentenced him.

Raif’s current legal representative is not a lawyer. In March 2015, at the request of his family, Lawyers Without Borders Canada and the Quebec Bar announced they would work to obtain Raif’s release. Lawyers Without Borders said, ”We will act based on Saudi law and applicable international law” in collaboration with his legal representative in Saudi Arabia.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post in April 2015, Ensaf wrote:

“Before his arrest, my husband wrote: ‘We want life for those who wish death to us; and we want rationality for those who want ignorance for us.’ I carry his words and his courage with me on the darkest and most hopeless days. Raif inspires me and compels me to keep raising my voice. I will not stop until my husband is free.”

Muslims organize Ring of Peace in Oslo to protest anti-Semitism

In support of Oslo’s Jewish synagogue and community, a “ring of peace” rally protesting anti-Semitism and condemning violence following attacks which targeted Jews in Copenhagen and Paris was held on Feb. 21, 2015. In Paris, three Islamic extremists killed 17 people at a kosher grocery and the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and killed a policewoman. In Copenhagen, a Dane of Palestinian origin killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and a Danish filmmaker attending a free speech event.  

The rally was organized by eight Muslims aged 17 to late 30s, and Minotenk, a minority political think tank. Minotek, founded in 2008 by a Pakistani-Norwegian lawyer and politician, concentrates on multicultural issues regarding minorities in Norway.  The rally to form a protective circle around the synagogue was organized on Facebook in four days and quickly gained support, including a second rally in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.

Minotek’s Yousef Assidiq said, “An attack on Jews is an attack on me and on all Muslims. We really hope that this can start a peaceful movement against hatreds of all kinds and that we can arrange these Rings of Peace around everyone that needs support in society. We hope that this event will make it easier for Jews to be public and proud of their religion without fearing any consequences. Out of little Norway, maybe this movement can spread across the world. "

The Ring of Peace Facebook event page explained the purpose of the event:

“Islam is to protect our brothers and sisters, independently of what religion they belong to. Islam is to rise above hatred and never sink down on the same level as the haters.... Muslims want to show that we strongly condemn all types of anti-Semitism and hatred toward Jews. And that we are there to support them.”

Norway's Jewish community of 1,300 is one of Europe's smallest. The Muslim population of about 200,000 is growing steadily through immigration. Norway’s population is about 5.2 million.  

Norway has a history of anti-Semitism. There is more anti-Semitism there than in Denmark and Sweden, according to Ervin Kohn, the president of Norway’s Jewish community. He also expressed concern at the widespread use by Norwegian schoolchildren of “Jew” as an insult. A 2012 study found that 12 percent of Norwegians had "manifest prejudice" against the Jewish population.

The Oslo synagogue was hit by 11 bullets in September 2006 by a Norwegian Islamist who was convicted of vandalism. After the recent Copenhagen attack, Oslo decided to close the street in front of the synagogue to car traffic for at least two years, following years of requests by the Jewish community to do so.

The ring of peace began to form at dusk and lasted until after Shabbat, which allowed the Jewish community to join.  As the small, mainly elderly Jewish congregation left the synagogue after prayers, a group of young Muslims formed a symbolic ring outside the building to roaring applause from a crowd of more than 1,000.

"This shows that there are many more peacemakers than war-makers," 37-year-old Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the organizers, told the crowd. "There is still hope for humanity, for peace and love across religious differences and background," he said before a traditional Shabbat ceremony was held in the open air with many demonstrators adding their voices to the Hebrew chants.

Several Muslim speakers said that Islam was a religion of peace and that "it's true face" had nothing to do with terrorism. “The majority of us want to live in peace with each other,” said Mudassar Muddi Mehmood, one of the organizers.

“We Muslims face the same fear as you, and we will face it together with you,” organizer Hajrah Ashrad, 17, told the crowd. “We hope we can contribute to reduce radicalization in our own group by showing that the majority of young Muslims support Jewish rights.”

Chief Rabbi Kohn appeared visibly moved when he said it was the first time the ceremony had taken place outdoors with so many people. Norway’s Chief Rabbi Michael Melchior sang the traditional end of Sabbath song outside the synagogue before the large crowd of people holding hands.

“Allahu akbar, Allah is great! Our common God is everywhere in the world, but most of all God is where rings are formed and bridges are built between people,” Rabbi Melchior told the crowd. “That’s where God wants to be. That’s where the future of humanity is secured. Thank you all for coming here tonight.”

Rabbi Melchior told the crowd that he had visited the family of the man killed outside the Copenhagen synagogue and told them about the planned peace ring. “The father of Dan Uzan embraced me and began to cry. He said, ‘You must say to the young Muslims in Norway that they have given me hope. They have given me a reason to continue living. Maybe it was a meaning to my son’s death. Maybe it gives reason to life for the future.'”

The group chanted, “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” as they stood in solidarity.

Matti Friedman

Journalist Matti Friedman has seen firsthand the way the international press gets the story of Israel wrong. In his Aug. 2014 piece for Tablet, Friedman explains the problems he has seen in his years working as a reporter in Israel and other countries in the Middle East.

Friedman has worked as a reporter in Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, Moscow and Washington, DC, and has covered conflicts in Israel and the Caucasus. He has lived in Israel since 1995, and has reported on it since 1997. His arguments come from observation.

Friedman first explains what he sees are the “central tropes” the international media depends upon in telling the so-called story of Israel. It’s a story mainstream outlets stick to, even when evidence would point to an entirely different reality.

In short, it’s a story that is “largely fiction,” he says.

The mainstream media has made it clear it sees Israel as an important story by how it staffs bureaus covering Israel and Palestinian territories, he says. While he was at the Associated Press, the AP had more than 40 staffers covering it. It was “significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined.”

Furthermore, the AP had one “regime-approved” stringer covering Syria before the outbreak of civil war. Friedman says:

“Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.”

Israel therefore remains the prominent story though, for example, 42 people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2013 – a number which Friedman points out is just about the monthly homicide rate in Chicago.

Friedman uses several examples from his own experience to outline the problems that arise with press coverage of Israel. While working as a reporter in Israel, Friedman found corruption to be a major concern for many Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority. But reporters pitching coverage of the issue were met with the response from an editor that Palestinian corruption was “not the story,” he says.

Supposed Israeli corruption, however, was covered ad nauseum. Friedman counts 27 stories in a seven-week period about problems in Israeli society – far more than his bureau had published in the three years prior on “Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas.”

Some other major lies Friedman explains:

Palestinians are presented by the media as “passive victims of the party that matters” – that party being Israel. Mainstream coverage includes no analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, Friedman says. Palestinians aren’t “taken seriously as agents of their own fate.”

He continues:

“The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated.”

The mainstream media also fails to report on the fact that the Hamas charter calls for Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews, and also blames Jews for being the true manipulators of the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars.

Despite Hamas winning a Palestinian national election and becoming “one of the region’s most important players,” the charter was never written about in print while Friedman was at the Associated Press is Israel, he says.

While Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters are real, Friedman says, there are also low-risk ways they could report on Hamas: “under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources.”

But they don’t because, as he says, “Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story.”

Mainstream media consistently portrays Palestinians as moderate, while Israelis are portrayed as “increasingly extreme,” he says. It went unreported in early 2009 that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a “significant” peace offer to the Palestinian Authority, but that the Palestinian Authority had declared it insufficient. The story wouldn’t have fit the ongoing mainstream narrative of the passive Palestinians and aggressive Israelis, so it was ignored, he says.

Friedman says these examples taught him something important about the way Israel is covered by the press:

Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.

Here, a few other notable points from Friedman’s piece:

“The Israel story is framed to seem as if it has nothing to do with events nearby because the ‘Israel’ of international journalism does not exist in the same geo-political universe as Iraq, Syria, or Egypt. The Israel story is not a story about current events. It is about something else.”

As Friedman explains, that something else is the way people in other parts of the world continue to treat Jews as a “blank screen” upon which to vent all their frustrations:

“The Jews of Israel are the screen onto which it has become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about yourself and your own country. The tool through which this psychological projection is executed is the international press.”

Read Friedman’s piece in Tablet for his full, nuanced view on the problems plaguing international coverage of Israel. He follows it with a piece from November 2014 for The Atlantic, arguing that reports on Israel tell us more about the reporters than they do about Israel.

U.S.-Israeli Relations

How bad are U.S.-Israeli relations? And how important are they in the grand scheme of things?by Adam Garfinkle, editor of The American Interest magazine and Middle East expert

Adam was a neighbor of mine during the 1990s in suburban Philadelphia. I knew him as both a person of great personal integrity and a brilliant scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a man with a cold eye and sharp tongue. His insights matter.

The key points of this article are:

  • Fracking of domestic oil shale deposits are making the U.S. energy self-sufficient. We don't really need Middle Eastern oil or their religious wars.
  • An increasingly racially and ethnically diverse America will have less interest and affinity for Israel in particular and the region in general.
  • American and Israeli relations were historically a seesaw driven by changing national priorities and domestic politics.
  • President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu detest each other; but this personal antipathy between U.S. and Israeli elites has many precedents.
  • Practical military, technical and commercial cooperation between the two nations remain satisfactory, as it as for decades.

Quote from article:

“The Arab world and its Muslim periphery have selected commodity riches, but not real earned wealth. This is reflected in the fact that whether one measures technological innovation, patents, books published, medical advances, education levels, female literacy trends, or a host of other standard development indices, the Muslim MENA region is near the bottom of the global heap. The area is important not for its positive contributions to a globalized world, but because of its negative potential to pull the tent down on everyone."

Lucy Aharish

The Times of Israel - A survivor of terror, Israel’s first Arab news presenter is done being a victim, by Elhanan Miller

Lucy Aharish was just 5 years old when she survived a terrorist attack while shopping with her family in Gaza. She told the Times of Israel:

“It was April 1987, a very hot day, and my dad opened the window,” she recalled. “I remember a traffic jam on the main road and I saw someone approach us with something in his hand. I looked at him and he looked back at me, and I automatically started sliding down on my seat in fear. My mother shouted ‘Lucy, sit up straight,’ and when she finished her sentence we heard a bang in the car.”

Now Aharish is the first Arab prime-time news presenter in Israel. This year she was given the honor of lighting a torch at the national Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl. The theme of this year’s ceremony was “groundbreaking Israelis.” Aharish was recognized as a “trailblazing Muslim journalist, who brings a discourse of tolerance and interdenominational openness to Israel’s public agenda” by the Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies, the Times reports.

She spoke of growing up in a secular household, learning both Hewbrew and Arabic, and becoming close to her neighbor, a Holocaust Survivor. But at school, she was bullied, and other students would call her a “dirty Arab.” But her high school principal, she said, never accepted racism or intolerance in his school:

“He would stand in front of the entire grade and say, ‘This will not happen in my school. Racism is something that no decent society, and especially not Jewish society, can tolerate.’ I don’t know if such principals exist in today’s education system.”

On her role as a journalist who sees the many facets of the issues she covers, Aharish says she can offer a new perspective to viewers:

“Bringing a different voice from Israel to the world is the biggest influence I could wish to have,” she told the Times. “I try to explain to our viewers that life in Israel is almost impossible, yet we live it nonetheless.”

FBI agents visit Holocaust Museum

The Washington Post - Why I require FBI agents to visit the Holocaust Museum, by FBI Director James B. Comey

In a speech given at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 2015 National Tribute Dinner on April 15, James B. Comey, raised in an Irish Catholic household and now the director of the FBI, explained why he requires all FBI agents to visit the Holocaust Museum.

He says, “I know it is our duty, our obligation, to make sure some good comes from unimaginable bad. Not so we can comfort ourselves by saying, ‘Oh, that was worth it then.’ That’s nonsense. That would be perverse. It will never be ‘worth it.’ “

Instead, he says, it is our duty to refuse to let bad win. We can all do this in different ways: some through public service, some through education.

Agents visit the Museum, he says, to confront humanity, and what we’re capable of:

“In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.”

Happy Birthday, Israel

Happy Birthday, Israel, by Israeli military historian and theorist Martin Van Creveld

On the 67th birthday of Israel, Martin Van Creveld explores the impressive gains Israel has made not only since its inception, but also since 1984, when the country was on the brink of bankruptcy.

The country has grown from 4.1 million inhabitants in 1984, to 8.2 million today. The post-2008 recession and anti-Semitism in many countries has led to increased immigration. The GDP, he notes, has increased markedly, and Israel has a 21st century workforce attracting top companies.

Van Creveld quotes American businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett: “ ‘Israel has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy,’ said Buffett (who, putting his pocket where his mouth was, by spent some $ 2 billion buying some Israeli companies).”

Buffett is not the only one to recognize the strength of Israel: “300 leading international companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Apple, HP, Cisco, Motorola, Philipps, and Siemens either already have R&D centers in Israel or are building them now.”

Remembering Ike

Please consider investing a few minutes of your time reviewing President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address to the nation.

His message is as important and relevant now as when it was written at the height of the Cold War. Here are three web links:


Audio transcript and link to audio recording
Press copy

Ike was a true American war hero and patriot, and a popular and revered Republican president. Compare his warm, inclusive, and reasoned rhetoric and unflinching insights into a post-Hiroshima world with the words and actions of today’s radical right wing Republican luminaries.

Sleep of Reason

After 9/11, all President George W. Bush asked of the American people was to go shopping. As the eldest son and political heir of the respected former president and decorated WWII fighter pilot, George H.W. Bush, the boomer Bush could have asked for real national sacrifice — and gotten it.

It has been almost 11 years since a group of 19 Islamic fanatics crashed hijacked commercial aircraft into the twin World Trade Center towers, Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

Our nation has initiated two largely unsuccessful wars that have cost the American people at least 3 to 4  trillion dollars, over 6,300 U.S. military fatalities, and over 633,000 U.S. soldiers with a military disability.

A cost of war: Soaring disability benefits for veterans

Our government and mass media has largely ignored constitutional safeguards on the abuse of executive power and creation a massive new federal bureaucracy in the Department of Homeland Security, with little real congressional oversight.

I suspect Dwight Eisenhower would now look at the current extreme political posturing and immoderate language of many in his beloved Republican Party and be disgusted.