Saturday, 27 February 2016

Off with my hair

Last week in Berlin, I met an acquaintance, who had only ever seen me with my head shaven. “Oh, you have got hair”, she said. “Not a lot”, I responded and asked her whether she liked it.  “Well…”, she said, “ you were more a Bruce Willis before and now you look like a friendly grandfather.”

So, no big surprise: I am off to shave my head again.

Merkel I

In a world full of short-term thinking and acting opportunistic and jingoistic politicians, Angela Merkel comes over like a breath of fresh air. Whether one agrees with her or not, whether she goes about things the right way or not, one cannot take it away from her: Merkel has moral values, which lead her thinking and form her policies, and which she is not shy of stating.

Such politicians are sadly a rarity and Germany can be proud to have Merkel as its prime minister.

Merkel II

She can’t be flawless and indeed, her Israel policy is flawed. It is the result of her profound awareness of German guilt for Jewish death that translates into German responsibility for Jewish life, be it in Germany or in Israel.

During Netanyahu’s recent visit to Berlin, Merkel astonishingly said that “now is not the time for a significant step forward.” When will the right time come?

Ms. Merkel is wasting the leverage, which the supply of u-boats to Israel could have given Germany. This is where guilt produces bad policy. Indeed, what Israel needs, what Israel’s security needs even more than u-boats, is pressure to get out of the occupied territories. Without external pressure it will not be able to get out of the pernicious spiral into which occupation has propelled it.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Yellow Card for Poland ?

The Polish government has announced that it will make referring to Nazi concentration camps that were situated in occupied Poland as “Polish concentration camps” punishable. Where will the offenders be sent?

The Poles have for a long time, rightly objected to the fallacious referral to the Nazi camps as Polish. However, we should not forget that many Poles were virulent and sometimes even murderous anti-Semites. Indeed pogroms took place after the war had ended, in which Poles killed Jews who were trying to return to their homes in Poland.

Moreover, considering the exceptionally high level of anti-Semitism still to be found in Poland: 45% in Poland compared to 16% in Germany and 11% in the UK, the Polish government should perhaps concentrate its resources on fighting anti-Semitism and educating its own population against racist xenophobia.

Worryingly, the current administration, as well as public and media sentiment is going wildly nationalistic. Is there a way of sending Poland out of the EU until they start behaving again? Countries such as Poland should be shown a yellow card. Perhaps even a red one.

Insulting Patients

At a recent visit to an NHS clinic, I was surprised to find the notice board filled with warnings that “Tough action will be taken” against abusers of NHS staff and that “Verbal or physical abuse of our staff could result in prosecution.”

As someone who has never seen anything but courteous discourse at clinics, I found these notices rather insulting. I wonder to what extent these are products of over-active unions trying to prove to their members how valuable they are?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

How not to send postcards from Venice

In some European countries it is possible to buy stamps at tobacconists. Over Christmas in Venice, we bought stamps for 8 postcards. They seemed more expensive than they should have been and the vendor explained that it was a special service that is more reliable than the Italian postal service. He then gave us a pamphlet and explained that the cards should not be put in the normal red boxes but in special postcard boxes, listed in the pamphlet.

It took us half an hour to find the nearest “special” box. It was hidden inside a small shop in the market:

Anyone who – at a time of email, messenger, whatsapp and other means of communication – still sends postcards – be warned – the cards have still not arrived. “Friend Post” is not so friendly, it turns out.

Americans – look at yourselves in the mirror

Every four years the US goes through an election campaign to whittle down the list of presidential candidates and then to elect a president. Such election years, in which the various candidates offer their worldview and make their promises, could serve as a powerful mirror, or more than that, as an X-ray of American society.

Are they looking in their own mirror? Are Americans seeing what we see?   

Take just this week’s crop: Ted Cruze – who won the Republican Iowa caucus – explains that waterboarding is not torture. Question to Mr. Cruz: why – if not to torture and elicit cooperation from the prisoners -  did the CIA use waterboarding? Not to be outdone, Trump – who lost Iowa to Cruze – informed the voters that he would bring waterboarding and even go further than that.

He who promises to be nastiest gets to be president?

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Duchess and the Rabbi

Beatrix Amelie Ehrengard Eilika Duchess of Oldenburg, going by her married name as Mrs. von Storch, a leading member of the German rightwing party AfD, Alternative für Deutschland, has joined her party leader Frauke Petry, and opined that German border guards should be able to shoot refugees trying to enter Germany. Petry, who was born in the German Democratic Republic, a country whose border guards shot its own citizens trying to flee, apparently sees nothing unusual in shoot to kill by border guards.

Blue-blooded Frau von Storch has no qualms in joining GDR born Petry in the effort to keep Germany German. German unification has evidently worked.

Some three thousand kilometres to the east, Shmuel Eliyahu, the municipal Rabbi of Safed, and as such an Israeli civil servant, recently explained that as terrorists were out to kill Jews it was necessary to kill them even after they had been caught. Policemen shooting them should be sent flowers, chocolates and money and medical teams treating them should let them die.

Shit is to be found everywhere. Fortunately, neither all Germans, nor all rabbis share Eliyahu’s and von Storch’s views. Sadly neither German, nor Israeli society, push those who propagate such views out of the public domain, perhaps across the border of the land that they try to establish for those of their own kind. 

Should Moroccans take up space in a refugee camp?

Last week, in a tram in Cologne, I was offered a seat by a very friendly young chap. His German was nonexistent, as was his English, he came from Morocco, he told me in broken French. He has been in Germany for a month and is hoping to find work. No, he has no profession and he may move to Spain in a few months time, he said and if that does not work out, he will go back home. For the time being, he is staying at the local refugee camp.  

Friends had told him that Europe was so beautiful, but it’s so cold in Germany and Morocco is very beautiful too, he proudly said. His parents, he told me in answer to my question, want him to come back home.

I later remembered how when I was his age, I also travelled in Europe, I stayed in large dormitories, perhaps like the camp the young Moroccan was put up in, they were called youth hostels but I had to buy my own food and was not given any pocket money by the countries I visited.