Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

I am adding my bit to the Mandela, or Madiba, - as the cognoscenti now seem to refer to him – festival. I did not watch the funeral and I am not really interested in the whole song and dance around it. But I do have two questions.

A partial answer to the first question would have been in the Mandela file that the South African previous regime’s secret service held and doubtlessly destroyed in the last days of Apartheid.

Even more interesting than the stuff in the file is what was too risky to include in the file to begin with, such as thoughts the Apartheid government may have entertained of getting rid of the prisoner they held for 27 years. Was there a plan to kill him? Was it ever discussed? Why did they hold back?

The Apartheid regime may have been so sure of itself that nothing was considered too risky to record. There is unlikely to be a file lying around anywhere but there must be people who know and I expect that if the information is not yet in the public domain, at some point it will be.

Not to be found in the files is the answer to my second question: Where would South Africa be, had there not been Nelson Mandela? 

The Long Shadows of the Past

A very small number of Jews settled in Germany immediately or within a few years after the Holocaust. For their decision to live in Germany, they were ostracised by their Jewish brothers throughout the world. They lived in Germany, hated the country that was still infested with Nazis, and felt guilty for being there. They brought up their children with the notion that their stay in Germany was only temporary.

I spent the last year and a half researching and interviewing the grandchildren of those people: 3rd generation Jews in Germany. I wanted to find out whether for the 3rd generation Germany is finally a homeland? Or do they - like their parents used to proclaim - consider Israel as their homeland? What is the role of Israel in their lives? And what does being Jewish mean to these predominantly secular Jews?

The resultant book, Die Schatten der Vergangenheit sind noch lang: Junge Juden über ihr Leben in Deutschland, just got published and had a very successful launch in Berlin three weeks ago. The book launch was followed by six reading events in different German cities. Further reading events have been scheduled for January, March and April of next year.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Interview on German TV

If you have missed yesterday’s Kulturzeit programme on 3sat, you can watch the short item (including an interview) they did on my new book, Die Schatten der Vergangenheit sind noch lang, HERE.


I want some EU money too

The Vatican has recently announced that new LED lights are to be installed in the Sistine Chapel. There are benefits all round: the new lights will produce less heat than traditional light bulbs so that it will be possible to better illuminate the chapel and we will all get a better view of the magnificent art. The Vatican will save on its air-conditioning bill because of the reduced heat. Moreover, the LED is cheaper and the Vatican will save 60% of the lighting costs.

Installing the new system will cost 1.9 million Euro and here’s the rub: for some reason the wise men in Brussels have decided to subsidise the (non-member and cash rich) Vatican with €870,000 EU money for this project.

Bringing in hell, as in what-the-hell, is unlikely to shock the Vatican. They are used to more exciting sins than an occasional mentioning of hell. Not even what-the-f*** will cause a stir. 

Could the explanation be the granting of an umbrella absolution to the corrupt apparatus of the European Union? But the Vatican, I imagine, would have charged more than 870,000 Euros for that service.

Or are EU officials just like the girl-who-can’t say-no? You apply for a grant and get one. In that case, how about one for me? 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Shock counter Shock

I like the idea of Germany granting asylum to Snowden.

But they won't.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Joys of Facebook

Facebook is not only about people showing off their own or their children's bodies. 

Yesterday, a Facebook “friend” of mine, informed his “friends” that he would be going to an event at a kneipe, a sort of a pub, in the NeuKölln district of Berlin. The thing is - I hardly know the chap, my Facebook friend - and he would not have emailed me or phoned me to alert me to the fact that he was going to that specific event. But, it sounded interesting and I went there too. 

And it was worth it, despite the fact that I came out after two hours smelling of ten thousand cigarettes. They were all at it, rolling one cigarette after the other and it was just pure boring tobacco. Evidently the laws about smoking in public spaces are not very strictly adhered to. 

It was a sort of a talk-show, in which Peter Wensierski, an interesting and charismatic Spiegel journalist, spoke about the years in which he reported from the former DDR (East Germany). 

Things I heard at dinners in Germany

A man I just met at a dinner party told me that half of Berlin’s real estate was now in Jewish hands. I tried to suggest that this was somewhat exaggerated but he was certain of it. Since unification, he told me, they have bought packages of tens of thousands of flats in the city.

“I have no problem with it”, he hastened to add, fearing that I might think him an anti-Semite. “On the contrary, they are clever, they have a good nose for it”, he explained and “I try to follow the market to also do a deal now and then and it is useful to know what they are doing.”

Different party – different people, similar sentiment: a German academic in her forties, who has spent a couple of years in the USA, told me that Jewish academics look after each other. I questioned her statement and she was “certain” that if a Jewish researcher has his or her grant cut, his Jewish friends will help him out for a while, out of their own budgets, until things are sorted. “No”, she said “not forever, but for a year or two.”

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Die Schatten der Vergangenheit sind noch lang

The new book, Die Schatten der Vergangenheit sind noch lang: Junge Juden über ihr Leben in Deutschland,  is due out later this month.

First reading events:

Berlin - 26 November

Bonn - 28 November

Freiburg - 3 December

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Germans’ Love for Authoritative Reich-Ranicki

The formula was unbeatable: You mix a very intelligent and very well read and knowledgeable Jewish holocaust survivor, whose family was murdered by the Germans and who chose to come in and live in post-War Germany, with drawn to authority Germans, grateful to Jewish intellectuals who settle in their country and you get a success story. Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a Polish Jew who moved to Germany in 1956 and became the country foremost literary critic died yesterday, at the ripe old age of 93. Germany is in mourning.

For years, Germans referred to the man as their Literaturpabst, their pope for matters literary. What tantrums of jealousy the man at the Vatican must have had because of the total deference this Jewish –of all things – so-called literary pope enjoyed. Reich-Ranicki instructed the Germans what was right and what was wrong, which book is good and which is not.  On a regular basis, in his TV programmes and in his newspaper columns, he told them – often in the most abusive language - and shouted (his version of hell?) at them when disobeyed. They adored this Jew who shouted at them. Talk of role reversal.  

Friday, 23 August 2013

Manuscript Delivered

The manuscript for my next book, Die Schatten der Vergangenheit sind noch lang, has finally been delivered to the publisher.

The book that is based on interviews with young German Jews of the 3rd generation after the Holocaust is due to come out at the end of November. 

Inverse Racism

Was it inverse racism that led me, and probably many others, to hope for an attitude, policy and actions more sensitive to human rights from a black person in power than his white predecessors?

After the terrible eight years with George Bush whose administration gave the world morally defunct and strategically catastrophic invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan with the spin-off lowlights of Guantanamo prison, rendition programmes and a deterioration of our rights to privacy under the mantle of “homeland security”, there was a craving for change that went further than the normal Democrats – Republicans divide.  

The Republican Party offered the American people its dream ticket: a perhaps not senile but aging and self centred McCain and their very own version of a dumb blonde who was not even blond, Sarah Palin. Almost half of America voted for the Republican couple (46%). Obama came in at a disappointingly low margin.

Naively – it turns out - many expected that a black President would make a difference, especially in areas of human rights. It turns out that a black President is just that, a President who happens to be black. Obama promised to close Guantanamo and has not done so. Obama has allowed his military to torture a US soldier, awaiting trial for leaking secret documents to the wikileaks network. They held him in solitary confinement for months on end, forced him to sleep naked on sheetless beds, made to stand for parade in the nude. By not stopping this abuse, Obama condoned it. And then, there is the mass theft of our personal communications by the NSA.

This may be the one important legacy of Obama: an understanding that blacks are like everybody else.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

More on Snowden

There is a tendency to admire daring acts even when they are criminal. Gutsy thieves sometimes benefit from public awe bordering on hope that they might get away with their crime. Whistleblowers by definition break the law and yet we are often grateful to them for doing just that. Edward Snowden who leaked information on the extent of US and UK eavesdropping is a case in point.

This is a sad observation, but even if one does not approve of Snowden’s deed, does one really want him to fall into the hands of the American “justice” system? Take Guantanamo - this is a scandal. The US government has kidnapped hundreds of people and is keeping them jailed without trial in a sort of a no-man’s land, on a US naval base in Cuba. This was an invention of the truly nasty Bush and Cheney regime, which Obama vowed to get rid of within a year of being elected. That year ended in January 2010.

The US government refers to the detainees in Guantanamo as “enemy combatants”. So perhaps as enemies they have no rights in the American system. What, however, about the American soldier Bradley Manning who was arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of leaking classified material to WikiLeaks. For almost a year the US army held him in solitary confinement until international pressure shamed them into moving him to a different army base. It took the US justice system almost three years to start court proceedings against Manning. Why? Is that justice?

Wagner...Verdi...move away

Last week, a delightful production (Michael Grandage) of Figaro at Glyndebourne reminded me how unsurpassable Mozart is. Nobody reaches his heights and especially when it comes to vocal ensembles. Verdi and Wagner should bow out quietly (not so easy).

During the interval, whilst picnicking, it occurred to me that my first visit to Glyndebourne, also Figaro, took place exactly 50 years ago. In the summer of 1963, I spent a few weeks as a guest of my late father’s best friend, the Holland Festival’s director general, Peter Diamand. At the end of my visit, Peter surprised me, he had arranged for me to go to Glyndebourne for both Figaro and Zauberflöte.  In his hands was a telegram from [then not yet Sir] George Christie, Glyndebourne’s chairman, “delighted to have Ranan in my box.” 

A Land to Die For? reviewed in the Jerusalem Post

Monday, 1 July 2013

Still Alive

I am getting emails from friends who want to know why I have stopped blogging. Some were even worried that I might be unwell. The fact that some people have noticed and have even gone to the trouble of telling me that they miss my occasional ponderings is flattering of course.

I would like to set your minds at ease: I am fine and the only reason I have not blogged lately is that I am under deadline pressure. I have promised the manuscript for my next book to my publisher and working on it is virtually all I do. OK, I did go to a friend's party last night. When I mentioned to one of the guests that I was in a “deadline panic”, he asked, “is there any other relationship one can have with a deadline”? and he is probably right.

Thank you all for asking. I will try to feed the blog again.

Secret Porn

There is nothing like porn to wake one up and in this case to get me to blog again. Two seemingly unconnected items recently appeared in the press:

·      *   The British electronic eavesdropping station, GCHQ (the United States NSA’s little sister) not only listens to all our phones, reads our faxes, emails and even sms messages but also – in a programme aptly names Mastering the Internet - follows the whole world’s internet traffic. They know what sites we visit, what we use search engines for etc. Moreover, GCHQ sucks in and holds on to the material for 30 days, to give them time to analyse the material.
·      *   30 per cent of all data transferred across the Internet is porn.

If you consider both items in conjunction with each other, what you get is that a secret British government’s department has built gigantic super computers to enable it to store vast amounts of pornographic material. It may also mean that they have hundreds of [happy or probably frustrated] government analysts whose sole remit it is to watch porn. 

London synagogues

To balance the pornographic content, here is a synagogue story. Friends had recently suggested I join them for the Friday night service at two synagogues in the Marylebone area. The first one we went to was the Reform Synagogue at Upper Berkley Street. It was a delightful evening. There was a small orchestra as well as a choir. The tunes seemed to be a combination of Christian church music with some Andrew Lloyd Webber thrown in. Altogether, there was a good atmosphere. The second synagogue was a failure. I meant to go to the conservative Marble Arch synagogue at Great Cumberland Place. However, the security man prevented me from entering. I had no bags or luggage and would not have objected to a search, but he was adamant that I should give him my name whilst I wanted to remain anonymous.  

Monday, 22 April 2013

Not Enough Silicon?

A great recipe for political success: Frighten the population into a hysterical frenzy - send in the troops - catch a suspect - reap applause: 

The reports from Boston, after the Chechen suspect was arrested were full of “we are a resilient city” and “we are proud to be Bostonians”, whilst hordes in the city of Harvard and MIT shouted “USA USA” reminding one of recent classy Republican Party conventions.

As terror attacks go, this one was fairly minor. And yet, public transport was shut down, airspace was restricted and more than a million Bostonians were put under curfew. Then, many thousands of policemen, national guardsmen, FBI agents and who knows what other agencies they have, were sent out to locate one man whose identity was known to the authorities.

Is that their level of sophistication in the land of high-tech or is it just that the word terrorist gets everybody’s knickers in a twist? They don’t, after all, close down American cities every time a murderer is on the run. Perhaps they should? 

Such heavy-handed mode of operation could perhaps have been avoided, had more sophisticated and intelligent FBI work been able to prevent the Marathon bombing: having been tipped off by the Russian (?) secret service, the FBI that interrogated the elder (now killed) Tsarnaev brother a couple of years ago, failed to recognize his radicalization.

Here, There, Everywhere

Sara (with hat) Netanyahu at the Thatcher funeral

Hat off to Obama for not sending a representative.


When critics complained about the high cost of Mrs. Thatcher’s funeral (apparently ten million pounds), one of the Lady’s many admirers responded that the cost of looking after the Jordanian terrorist Abu Qatada - who has successfully fought off extradition to Jordan - in the UK and the cost of the various judicial processes connected with his making Britain his chosen land has already exceeded ten million pounds.  

Now, if Margaret Thatcher had stayed alive (she was no longer capable of doing any harm) and Abu Qatada had died – we would have enjoyed a double saving.

On a serious note – the send off that the previous Labour government and the current Tory administration have allowed Thatcher to orchestrate for herself was an inflated outrage. We are owed an apology by the government.

Other than for heads of state or government killed due to and during their term office, this whole state funeral nonsense should be discontinued.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Pressure on Israel – A Zionist Act?

Should Israelis and Diaspora Jews who believe that the occupation and the settlements are a barrier to peace lobby for US and European pressure on Israel?

When Obama announced his coming visit to Israel, many had hoped for some progress to be made on the peace agreement front. Such progress cannot be achieved without serious pressure on a government that wishes to hold on to and continue settling the West Bank. Some Israelis had put their hopes on Obama – who reportedly neither particularly likes nor trusts Netanyahu – to impose his will. He should, after all, have quite some leverage.

“When I was in Hebron, I was sure no one knew what was going on there. If the mothers knew what their children are doing – so I thought – we’d leave Hebron immediately. But I discovered that wasn’t how it was, because a lot of people don’t think that way. A lot of people, when you tell it to their faces, they just don’t give a shit. … I think international pressure is good. I’m happy about any kind of international pressure. If we are not capable of making the change, then let them lay on the pressure, let Obama lay on the pressure, let all the countries lay on the pressure. Let soldiers who go through stuff talk about it, expose it to Israelis and to the world. Unfortunately it’s of more interest to the world than to Israelis.”

These words of 22-year-old Roee, just out of the army, which appear as monologues together with voices of other young Israelis in A Land to Die For? *, seem not to have reached President Obama. Unless the White House is running a successful disinformation campaign and if we are to believe what various analysts and journalists are telling us, President Obama is coming to Israel without serious intention to sort out the current standstill in the Middle East.

Sentiments such as Roee’s and hopes in the Israeli left that Israel could be “saved” from itself through external pressure are not something new. Often, such voices are criticised by the right wing that sometimes even considers the call for external pressure to be tantamount to treason. Indeed, this has habitually also been the attitude of Diaspora Jews: It does not matter what you think and say at home  – you should not criticise Israel or it’s government in public.

Yet, if holding on to the Occupied Territories is in fact bad for Israel – a view that has recently been made quite clear in the Oscar nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers, and which is shared by many senior members and former members of the Israeli security establishment – then those Diaspora Jews who attempt to stifle any criticism of Israel may have instead of helping Israel actually harmed her.

An amazingly effective AIPAC, a generally strong pro-Israel public opinion in the United States together with the decline in the power of Arab oil means that those who have been hoping for Obama to put real pressure on Israel are likely to be disappointed. Will Europe deliver where the US is failing? It does not have the same leverage over Israel as Israel’s main financial, military and political supporter, the USA. Yet, public opinion in many European countries has in the last years turned anti-Israel. At some point European governments may decide to take notice of what their voters are saying. Europe may yet save Israel from the extreme right road it has been taking for too many years.

Diaspora Jews should ask themselves whether they should continue to automatically toe the Israeli government line rather than listen to what others such as Roee and some of his friends are saying. Pressuring Israel back to sanity may be the most pro-Israel act Jews in the Diaspora could undertake.

* David Ranan, “A Land to Die For? Soldier Talk and Moral Considerations of Young Israelis”, Theo Press, 2013.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Lech Walesa

Talking of closets, someone should lock this Polish icon in one. The world’s Polish darling, Lech Walesa, has just come up with some amazing catholic right wing stuff: Homosexuals should “ know that they are a minority and must adjust to smaller things… not rise to the greatest heights ... spoiling things for the others and taking from the majority.” Asked, in an interview, where homosexuals should sit in the parliamentary chamber this primitive man added, "No minority should climb all over the majority. Homosexuals should even sit behind a wall, and not somewhere at the front.”

His Eminence and sexual conduct

Should archbishops and cardinals have sexual “conduct” at all?

The most senior Catholic cleric in the UK, Cardinal O’Brien, has just announced to a no longer surprised world, “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.” Wow. But, what else could a catholic cardinal define what is said to be fondling and kissing seminarians? 

Somewhere I feel sorry for this 75 year-old gay man who chose priesthood as his vocation, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in his country. That was probably his way of trying to control, deny and thereby perhaps kill his sex drive - one that society chose to punish.

O’Brien’s sex drive being what it is was stronger than his will and he is alleged to have abused his position to make advances to some men junior to him. This is undoubtedly wrong. It is wrong to take advantage of your position for sexual gratification. It is also wrong for a man of the church to live a lie. Nobody, by the way, suggested child abuse or pedophilia.

Perhaps, however, our eminent cardinal would not have found himself in this terrible position, had society - led by Catholic and other religious institutions and by lawmakers all over the world - not made homosexuality illegal? Had we not been brought up that gay sex is immoral and disgusting? Had society not pushed homosexuals into deep closets hoping that they might suffocate in them?

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Settlements Out?

Israel may be right in accusing the UN Human Rights Council of being “systematically one-sided and biased”. That, however, does not mean that the findings in the latest report of the Council, according to which Israel is in violation of the Geneva Convention, are incorrect.

The UNHRC’s panel of judges speaks of Israel’s “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law.” Their report states that Israel “must cease all settlement activities without preconditions” and start withdrawing all settlers from the occupied territories.

Curiously, the UNHRC has not called for an international boycott of the Settlements. It should have. 

Syphilis Sells Books

In time for Benjamin Britten’s 2013 centenary, Penguin is publishing a new biography. The press is full of the “exciting” findings that Britten’s heart failure and death were the result of Syphilis, of which he was unaware and which he probably was given by his partner Peter Pears.

Twenty years ago, another biography of Britten, which went to great lengths to discuss Britten’s homosexuality and even possible abuse in his childhood, was published. At the time, I asked a friend of Britten’s who was also a close friend of my parents, what he thought of the newly published biography. This friend did not like it and thought that this delving into Britten’s private life was wrong. I disagreed.

I thought and still think that Britten’s sexuality and attitude to homosexuality played an important role in his work and that the information was therefore relevant. This cannot be said about Britten’s sexually transmitted disease. We do not need this very private information in order to understand his music.

Could it be that syphilis sells more books than musical analysis of the composer’s Church Parables?

From Russia with Love

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has announced that the Syrian government is in control of its chemical weapons, adding that, “the situation doesn’t give any grounds for serious worries.”

Most people do not really care about Syria or its neighbours or about if and how exactly they get killed. Most of those who do care probably do not believe a word of what a Russian foreign minister says.

So why bother? 

Thursday, 10 January 2013

They want to chuck Hagel

President Obama has announced that Chuck Hagel is his nominee for the job of Secretary of Defense. The Republicans whose main contribution to the democratic process in the US is to try to derail everything that comes from the Democrats, and have already successfully thwarted Obama’s first choice as Secretary of State, Ambassador Susan Rice, are now out to kill the Hagel nomination.

The main line of attack is that Obama’s choice for Defense Secretary is not sufficiently pro... Israel. I have no idea whether Hagel is a good choice for the Defense job but I do know that being “pro Israel” should not be a prerequisite for an American Defense Secretary. Hagel's detractors also maintain that he is an anti-Semite, as he once referred to the Israel lobby as the "Jewish lobby". The fact is that there is a strong Jewish lobby that forms an important part of the strong Israel lobby in the US. Mistakenly referring to it as the Jewish lobby does not make him an anti-Semite. Indeed, there are many Jews who refer to the Israel lobby as the Jewish lobby. 

Someone must tell those morons that it is their duty is to vote for a candidate who is good for America. They should perhaps be reminded that serving the interests of a foreign country is tantamount to treason.