Sunday, August 18, 2013

Old Post on the loss of professions

Where did all the jobs go? July 8th, 2008 Seth J. Frantzman In 1714 the following jobs were the occupations of the residents of Bradford, England. Three percent were owners of land. 14 percent were 'landless labour'. Three percent were involved in coal mining. 23 percent were involved in textiles. 19 percent made their daily bread in 'clothing and footwear'. Five percent worked in 'food and drink'. 9 percent were employed in building. 12 percent worked in 'minor trades and industries'. Seven percent worked in 'services'. Three percent were in the professions. 1 percent were 'gentry' and 1 percent were in the militia. In nearby villages the main occupations were coalmining, landless labour and work in the textile industry. In nearby Scotland a list of 'old occupations' contains many interesting, and forgotten, jobs. There was the 'beadman' (Bedeswoman and Beildsman as well) or licensed beggars. There was the 'Alewife' or woman who ran a pub. There were 'Berlin Blackers' who applied black varnish to iron tools. There was the Chapman who dealt goods from his donkey cart by traveling from village to village. There were Byremen who looked after cows. There were Cork Cutters who cut cork imported from Portugal. There was the Cowan (and Dyker) who built dry stone walls. There was a Fethelar or town fiddler. There was the Ghillie or 'highland guard of wild game'. There was a Moneyer, the man who made coins. There was the Rope spinner or maker of rope and the Rove Carrier who moved fibres and flax before spinning. There was the Sprigger who made fine linen. There was the Thong Maker who made leather whips and other leather goods. There was a Walkser whose job was to wet cloth and step on it in order to thicken and clean it. There was also the Wadsetter or holder of a mortgage. Today's human looks with disdain on these jobs and celebrates the fact that either they no longer exist, machines do them or 'other people' do them. In the Western countries and other wealthy states these jobs have been exported overseas or they have been usurped by machines. Such were the results of industrialization, globalization and the increasing abilities of assembly line robots to do intricate work. There was a time when most people did labour with their hands. But there have been at least two generations, if not three or four, that have separated us from our forbears. Such mundane textile jobs and farm labour is something so remote that most could not imagine it. But society increases daily with more and more people as populations grow (except in Europe). So as these 'old' occupations have disappeared new occupations have had to replace them. Most people, even in this technologically advanced society, must work in order to survive. But given the flaccid nature of people and the fact that so few of them are capable of doing work with their hands any longer society has had to increase the number of jobs that do not require much work. In order to do this we have created a generation of people employed in what was then called 'services'. One example of these new kind of jobs that have come to replace the 'Walkser' and the 'Dyker' are jobs described as "Community and External Affairs and Business diversity." This was the description of Michelle Obama's job at a hospital for which she was paid $275,000 a year. Michelle Obama might be the posterchild of a generation for whome work is an abstract theoretical concept. Michelle may have grown up in a modest home but she aspired to higher things. She got into Princeton and spent her time there complaining about how racist it was (although the fact that she was allowed to go there seems to belie this claim). She became wealthy through working a variety of non-jobs, non-occupations, for which no work was required and no results could be provided. After all, how does someone measure 'community outreach' for a hospital? People are dying everyday, they must go to the hospital. Does one need to outreach to them? In the end Michelle became a bandleader of the movement against occupation. She has publicly stated to college students that they should not "go into corporate America." Yet at the same time she claims that "Barack Obama will require you to work." But what will this 'work' look like? This work is entirely predicated on the idea that things that are not real occupations can be subsumed under the idea of what 'work' is and then meaningless labels can be dished out to this years college students so that they will all work as 'grant writers' or 'community representatives' or 'organizers' or some other noncupation. In fact that is what these jobs are, they are the opposite of an occupation, they are noncupations. It was inevitable that technology would produce this. Movies about the future made between the 1950s and the present have always shown a future where no one works. People are always portrayed walking around in similar track suits but they never seem to have jobs. If they have occupations it is as some sort of officer or deckhand on a star cruiser. In Aliens the movie the directors created a universe that involved futuristic soldiers, but no one had an occupation outside of the military. What jobs were there in Star Wars. There were all the imperial soldiers of Darth Vader and the people who drove his star ships around. Luke Skywalker's uncle was a farmer. But those were basically the only occupations shown in the film. People can't imagine occupations in the future because we have witnessed to many honest occupations fall by the wayside. We imagine a future in which no one works. The present state of society, in which people hold jobs that are not real occupations and in which few if any people use their hands during work (except to type), has created all the need for 'meaning' in life. People even volunteer to do old occupations so as to find themselves. They believe that through a few weeks of 'work' they will suddenly have an awakening. The need for all this meaning in life may stem from a lack of actual skills in life but the remedy, psychologists, psychiatrists and 'meditation' does not seem to bring people any closer to knowing what work once was. People in movies speak of owning farms and living off the land but most are ill-equipped to do so. The stories of people like Chris Mcandlis in Into the Wild appeal to people because they wish they too could abandon all to live in a pre-modern state of being. The romanticism of the late 19th and early 20th century, both among the Communists and Fascists, saw nations of people working together to build themselves up. These mass ideologies or 'Sacred Causes' tried to re-envision a nation of romantic workers and peasants, all happily working as cogs in the machine. Both the Germans and the Soviets romanticized the countryside and each had their ideologies of 'returning to the soil'. In Russia it was the peasant commune and in Germany it was 'blood and soil'. Either way it was a reaction to modernity which saw ever more people crammed into cities and the land turning fallow as the agricultural people left it to find work in factories. This was a harbinger of doom for folk tradition. But the solution found in Nazism and Communism was mass industrialization. There was to be no true return to the land. Attempts were made to colonize vast swaths of hitherto useless land as shown in David Blackbourn's excellent study Conquest of Nature. In essence, however, this was the irony of these mass movements based on a romantic notion of nature: there was no return, merely a conquest of nature and a slow destruction of it. In the Democratic west the conquest of nature proceeded apace with a conquest of the soul that was the result of a lack of occupations being open to the youth. There simply are no more jobs. They have all disappeared. The fact that the best and brightest in the West abhor the 'corporation' and blame all of societies ills on it merely shows the degree to which the wool has been pulled over our eyes. Corporate life holds some of the last actual occupations that are left over from the ancient world. It still has some attachment to the idea of work as a way of life and as an ethos. While small businesses are rightly celebrated as a wonderful part of society few people aspire to work in small businesses. People aspire to the nameless occupations where the real money is. Since people can pull down huge salaries such as $275,000 a year for working as a 'community relations consultant' there is no reason to aspire to having a real occupation. Everyday there are fewer and fewer occupations. There are fewer and fewer skills. Everyday people become more and more separated from any sense of their surrounding environment. Karl Marx spoke of factory workers being alienated from their labour but today’s people are alienated from humanity. They are alienated from the environment. They are alienated from nature. They are mindless automatons who have no real skills and cannot even explain what it is they actually do for a 'living'.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Terra Incognita The Global Economy 2012

Terra Incognita: Rethinking the global economy in 2012
01/03/2012 21:56

The economic forecast for this year isn’t all bad, but there are definitely changes in the air.

For some reason financial “experts” are predicting a good year in 2012. Wall Street strategist Brian Belski and Standard and Poor’s analyst Howard Silverblatt predict that stocks will rise about 10 percent. Everywhere are headlines like “pros see stocks rising in 2012” and “analysts see stocks climbing in 2012.”

That is all well and good except, as Bernard Condon at the Associated Press notes, the “experts” also predicted gains in 2011. It is worthwhile looking back over the past year to get an idea of what may be in store for next year’s global economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a gauge of the US financial market, is ending the year almost precisely where it started, at around 12,000 points. European and Asian markets generally had a worse year than New York’s stock exchange. US financial markets have recovered since the disaster they suffered in 2008, which was a long-term result of a sub-prime mortgage crises.

It turns out 2011 was a relatively good year for US home sales, which were up 7% in November. That means more people are buying homes, but the price of real estate has not changed, and has actually continued to decline, albeit slightly. The spike in home sales has been fueled by record-low interest rates: Wells Fargo, a major bank, estimates that a 30-year fixed-rate loan, which is a typical type of home loan, will come with a rate as low as 3.875%.

IF THE US economy seems to have weathered the storm in 2011 and recovered from many of its problems, it is no secret that the world’s real economic problems are in Europe. All of 2011 was overshadowed by discussions about Greece defaulting on her debts or leaving the Euro, plunging markets into chaos again and again.

The EU response has been tepid, as Germany and France, the largest economies, wrestle with possible solutions. Some fears have been allayed with news that Italy’s borrowing costs declined to 3.2% when it raised $11.8 billion in late December. Borrowing costs are a measure of volatility, so the fact that Italy is paying less interest is a sign that investors feel there is less risk of an Italian default.

In November, an auction of Italian bonds had forced the country to pay upwards of 6% to raise money. It was because of this that Italy was said to be the “next Greece” with fears that financial contagion would spread from Italy to Spain and Portugal and from there to the gates of Paris and Berlin.

However, Europe’s economy still suffers from other issues. The first is that the European Union has become more ham-handed in its regulatory behavior. In one instance it denied the right of mineral water makers to claim their products guarded against dehydration. In slapping record fines on Intel and Microsoft several years ago, it proved itself to be wary of foreign innovation and fearful of penetration of its markets.

In another case the EU continues to provide subsidies to Airbus, against a decision by the World Trade Organization. In that dispute the US has asked the WTO to impose trade sanctions of up to $7b. annually on the Europeans. Over-regulation and protectionist trade policies will hamper the continent’s long-term prospects, rather than protecting European consumers.

More worrying was Germany’s decision to to scrap its nuclear power stations. Nuclear power is the clean innovation of the future, a 20th-century technology that is perfect for the 21st century’s interest in clean energy. But the tsunami in Japan led to widespread irrational fears, and nuclear power is being rolled back. In the end this will be a long-term disaster for Europe and other places, as economies continue to rely on fossil fuels.

In thinking about fossil fuels it is important to recall that oil prices increased due to the Arab Spring, falling back to the $90 a barrel price range in the fall before climbing again to $99 a barrel in December following Iranian threats to close the Straits of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed. It should be recalled that the Iranians attempted something similar in 1984, with limited success, during the Iran-Iraq war.

Because of turmoil in the Arab world the oil fields in Iraq and Libya remain threatened and the Iranian problem casts a shadow over the future price of oil. At the same time the West’s dreams of electric car technology are not being realized. Only 6,142 Chevy Volts were sold in 2011 and only 8,720 Nissan Leefs. By contrast 11,375 Ford Focuses were sold in just November 2011.

This year is going to see several continuing trends. The “occupy” movement and various populist anti-capitalist protests will remain. At the same time the “second world” will continue to outpace the first, with the rise of the Chinese Yuan to record levels and reports that the Brazilian economy has overtaken that of the UK. Interest rates will remain high in Europe and the US dollar will remain pressured by the fact that US has no good plan to repay its deficit or balance its budget.

The good news from 2011 is that despite economic jitters related to the Euro the world economy continued to improve. The bad news, however, is that the long-term structural problems associated with European monetary integration and US debt issues have not been resolved.

The writer has a PhD from the Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies

Terra Incognita UnOriginal Shooting

Terra Incognita: Un-original shooting
12/27/2011 23:27

Photographer Fredric Brenner promised to portray Israel beyond the stereotypes in his latest project, but the artists have predictably created an orgy of clichés.

An attempt to create a traveling photographic exhibition of Israel has yielded predicable results; an orgy of clichés. Perhaps this is not surprising given the traditional mix of idealism, Jewish donors, fear of politicization, Israeli intellectuals as guides and requests that the project move beyond black and white stereotypes.

The project, called “Israel: Portrait of a Work in Progress,” was the brainchild of Frederic Brenner. A French photographer, he is best known for his book Diaspora: Homelands in Exile which was billed as “the most extensive visual record of Jewish life ever recorded.” He decided that he wanted to bring world renowned photographers to Israel in order to present a more diverse image of the country.

“[I was] very sad to see how Israel was being portrayed...We were in a binary paradigm – for and against, victim and perpetrator. There was such a lack of complexity in describing this place,” he said.

According to The New York Times participants were supposed to “spend six months exploring the country’s deep and many fault lines to create a body of work that might reframe the conversation about Israel.” To fund the project Brenner raised $3.5 million from Jewish donors in the US and Europe. Donors included the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, which aims (according to the website) to support projects that deal with “Jewish life,” foster tolerance and an “open an exchange of ideas that goes beyond politics and stereotypes to a place of rich complexity and understanding that is essential to shaping the future of Israel.”

The photographers were afraid of being “instrumentalized” so it was important that no money came from an Israeli government source. Nevertheless the project received support from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Mishkenot Sha’ananim.

SO THE artists came and, according to reports, Mr. Brenner decided that it would be important to hook them up with local Israeli “experts” who would operate as handlers and help them understand Israeli culture. Brenner choose people like philosophy researcher Moshe Halbertal, Beduin expert Clinton Bailey and Gilat Aloni of Bezalel. The project is scheduled to be finished in 2012, after which a travelling exhibition will display the work. Individual photographers taking part in the project will also publish their work separately.

But early reports indicate the outcome of all this work is 100 percent predictable. Suffice it to say, it will primarily be about Palestinians, Beduin, separation barriers, Palestinian Beduin, east Jerusalem Palestinians, the desert and Jenin. So much for the project about “Israel” that was not about “victims and perpetrators” and was supposed to be “complex.”

Fazal Sheikh, a 46-year-old photographer from New York City who has exhibited at the Tate Gallery, has produced work that deals with “displaced and marginalized communities around the world.” Apparently Sheikh felt his name might make his work in Israel problematic and he didn’t want to be viewed as an “apologist... I wanted to know who was backing the project and be sure we would be getting complete freedom.”

In the end he choose to photograph Beduin in the Negev, in order to illustrate the idea of “erasure.” Similarly, his project will focus on Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, probably to show how Israel has “erased” their villages.

Josef Koudelka, a Czech photographer, will explore the separation barrier. He began his work in the Jerusalem area. He describes the fence as a “crime against the landscape, in the most holy landscape for humanity.” Born in Czechoslovakia and having witnessed the Soviet invasion of 1968, he has said that his experiences under Soviet suppression “inform his view of the conflict in the region.”

Even though the project was supposed to be about “Israel,” Rosalind Solomon decided to focus her work on Jenin. Supposedly she ended up being “a few minutes away” when famed Israeli-Arab director Juliano Mer Khamis was gunned down in April, 2011 in front of the Jenin theater his mother had founded.

Gilles Peress, a French photographer, is photographing in Silwan, an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem that has been a flashpoint for violence between Jews who moved there and the local Arabs.

Nick Waplington, an English photographer who was born in Aden in the former British colony of Yemen, is reported to be shooting photos of settlers in the West Bank. He has done some work in Gush Etzion, but his webpage shows a giant photo of an Arab village and another of “the West Bank Separation Wall with Water Heaters.”

The group also includes Martin Kollar of Slovakia, Stephen Shore, a famous American photographer who seems to be focusing on archeological themes, Thomas Struth from Germany, who claimed he partly wanted to come to terms with his father’s Nazi past, and Jeff Wall, who is taking photos of the Ramon crater. Jungjin Lee, a Korean photographer, has been photographing diverse vistas, from the Golan Heights to the Negev and West Bank Beduin.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a project like this, just as there is nothing wrong with the themes the photographers choose to focus on. Where the project fails is in its claim to go beyond stereotypes. Is this because the artists cannot think in an original way? Is it because the Israeli experts chosen to Sherpa the artists around choose to only talk about Beduin and separation barriers? Is it because any project handsomely paid for by well-meaning Jewish donors and hosted at the Bezalel Academy inevitably gravitates towards Silwan, the “barrier” and Beduin? Is it because the organizer of the project said, “I did not bring people here to see the land of milk and honey. I brought them here to see the land that devours its inhabitants?”

We will never know, but we do know that this project has already failed.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Terra Incognita: Disingenous Taxation

Terra Incognita: Disingenuous taxation
10/04/2011 22:53

The ultra-wealthy in many countries are claiming that they want to be taxed more, but are they being serious?

Talkbacks (1)
The social protesters that took to the streets in Israel this summer often spoke about increasing taxation on the wealthy, particularly the mega-wealthy who control large parts of Israel’s economy. With the economic crisis that has swept the world this has become a common theme in many countries. Either out of self interest, to deflect criticism, or due to sincere belief that they are under-taxed, some wealthy tycoons have come forward in France and the US, demanding to be taxed more. It is worth examining a few cases of the “tax me more” crowd in order to understand why their claims are partly disingenuous.

American billionaire Warren Buffet in particular has gotten a lot of attention for his call for a new tax on the wealthy. It is his latest ploy to keep himself a media darling and add to his fame as the “Oracle of Omaha.” In a New York Times op-ed entitled “Stop Coddling the Super Rich,” he claimed that he and his “mega-rich” friends were left “untouched” by the latest pain being felt by the American taxpayer. He explained that last year “what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income – and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office.

Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent” (New York Times, August 14) Buffet went on to detail how those earning salaries on a payroll tended to pay much a much higher percentage of their income in taxes than the super-rich.

He noted that 88 of the top 400 income earners in the US reported no wages at all and thus paid no payroll taxes. The Oracle suggested raising taxes on the 236,000 Americans who earn more than $1 million a year in income.

THE BUFFET analysis of the tax system’s inequality has an allure. It doesn’t make sense that someone who earns a good salary, such as $100,000 a year, pays a higher percentage of their income than someone whose income was $1 million from their investments.

But there Buffet’s claim that he pays less tax is extremely disingenuousness. He pays less tax primarily because he has always structured his income to pay less tax. If he wanted to pay his fair share of taxes, like his employees, he could simply pay himself his income as a salary, and thus contribute upwards of 25% of it in taxes. He has always chosen, like most of the mega-wealthy, to retain his income in investment vehicles, such as his own holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential candidate, was another disingenuous tax promoter. He spoke often of the “two Americas... with two sets of books: one for those at the top who get all the breaks, and one for the rest who do all the work.”

He argued that “First, we must write a firm principle into the tax code: the wealth of the wealthiest can never be taxed less than the work of the rest of America. Today, wealthy Americans can shelter unlimited amounts of unearned (investment) income from being taxed at the rate working Americans pay...That’s wrong.” But it turns out Edwards was the king of the tax shelters. In one year he took a salary of only $360,000 from his law practice, but received $26 million in income from special distributions.

Now several wealthy Frenchman have stepped forward to argue for a Buffet tax of their own. Maurice Levy, chairman of the advertising firm Publicis, declared that it is “only fair that the most privileged members of our society take up a heavier share of this national burden... I do not love taxes, but right now this is important and just.”

The billionaire heiress of L’Oreal also chimed in, encouraging the government to tax her more.

It all sounds very nice, but the reality is that it will always be hard for the government to tax the very wealthy. Most wealthy people either inherited their money or they are owners of major businesses. Their wealth is therefore either in a bank account earning interest, or in assets and investments. Enacting a “wealth tax” is difficult. This is always the irony of wealthy people like Mr. Buffet encouraging higher taxes, they want higher taxes and they know that those taxes will never reach them, because the government can’t simply order Mr. Buffet to turn over 10% of his shares in Berkshire Hathaway every year.

The higher taxes debate will always falter on this problem. The government wants to tax people that it can find; going after vague investment accounts, structured partnerships, trusts and overseas numbered accounts is not something tax authorities excel at.

Since, in the case of each mega-wealthy person the way their wealth is structured is unique, it is hard to levy a flat tax on them. However, raising the taxes levied on salaried employees, say people making over NIS 10,000 a month or NIS 80,000 a month, is easy because the taxes are generally collected or withheld at their source, before the wage earner even receives the income. The Warren Buffet Tax and the French wealthy calling on the government to tax them is primarily a ploy to make them look like better people and to encourage the public to continue believing in the empty slogan; “tax the fat cats.”

The writer has a Ph.D from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies

Terra Incognita: Acceptance Committees

Terra Incognita: The acceptance committee conundrum
10/22/2011 21:37

It should not be legal for kibbutzim founded many years ago to be allowed to uphold an institution that is considered illegal in other communities that were founded more recently.

Talkbacks (2)
In March 2011 the Knesset passed a law allowing small rural communities of up to 400 households in the north or south of the country to establish acceptance committees, or to maintain existing ones.. The final version of the law declared that “the acceptance committee will not refuse to accept a candidate for reasons of race, religion, sex, nationality, disability, personal status, age, parenthood, sexual proclivity, country of origin, opinions or political affiliation.”

But since the passage of this legislation, many groups, particularly those involved with the human rights lobby in Israel, have made a commotion. They threaten to petition the Supreme Court, claiming that the law is indirectly, or directly, aimed at discriminating against Arabs.

The Gush Shalom (“Peace Bloc”) organization posted on their website that “the purpose of this piece of legislation is manifestly clear: to provide a legal basis for the establishment of exclusively Jewish communal villages from which Arabs would be excluded, thus bypassing the court rulings prohibiting discrimination against Arabs.”

Writing in Haaretz, Dmitry Shumsky claimed: “There is no choice but to see the Acceptance Committee Law for communities as an expression of the anachronistic return to the open and callous ethno-centric nationalist racism of the old Europe of the previous century.”

Shlomo Molla, the lone Ethiopian MK, claimed the law’s wording, which permits rejecting applicants who do not meet certain social and cultural criteria, would result in discrimination against Ethiopians as well. Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, has argued that the law is “neither Jewish nor democratic.”

In the months following the passing of the law, several other news items have appeared that may have a bearing on the case.

In September, Ahmed and Fatina Zabeidat were finally allowed to take over a plot of land in the community of Rakefet in the Galilee. Five years ago they were rejected by the community’s admissions committee; Fatina was found to be “too individualistic” and Ahmed was said to “lack personal sophistication.” They were deemed “socially incompatible” with the community.

After years of their case wandering its way through the Israeli court system with the support of a number of human rights organizations supported by the New Israel Fund, they won their case.

In September, Kibbutz Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea, announced that it was accepting its first new members in 15 years. The kibbutz had declined so many applications over the years that only 176 members remained, and their average age was 62. For the new members to be accepted a total of two-thirds of the existing members had to vote for their acceptance. The situation in Ein Gedi is similar to that of most kibbutzim in Israel, which have seen their populations age and their numbers decline since the 1980s.

WHAT IS interesting about the stories of Kibbutz Ein Gedi and Rakefet is that both communities maintain longstanding acceptance committees. Rakefet’s has apparently been in place since its founding in 1981, and Ein Gedi’s since 1956.

In fact, it turns out that all the 500-odd kibbutzim in Israel have acceptance committees, as do many other communities, such as moshavim.

It might be fair to estimate that approximately 1,000 communities around the country currently use acceptance committees. Yet the law defining the legality of such committees was only passed in 2011. Why the contradiction? Why the sudden outrage about this law? In reality, the very foundation of Israel is, for better or worse, grounded in the notion of the acceptance committee.

From the very beginning, all communal settlements in Israel were heavily “socialized,” with all sorts of committees and rhetoric about the “social compatibility” of residents.

Acceptance committees have long been part of the social fabric of this country. From tiny settlements in the West Bank established after 1967 to new communities in the Misgav regional council in the Galilee to the oldest kibbutz in the country, the institution has always existed in Israel.

The acceptance committee has also been one barrier preventing the integration of many Jewish (not to mention Arab) groups into the rural environment. It isn’t the main barrier, though.

Many Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews live in urban areas because the government settled them there; they never even thought of how they might like to live on a kibbutz.

The Arab population of Israel, much of which lives in semi-rural villages, has never wanted to move to nearby Jewish communities, preferring to simply expand their existing villages.

The hypocrisy that exists in certain sectors of Israeli society raises a fake outrage about a “segregation” law, a law that merely enshrines what has always existed. The notion of the acceptance committee and all its pseudosociological findings of “social unsuitability” smacks of elitism and in many cases may hide racism behind “cultural” excuses. But this is not the main problem.

The central issue is that when the Supreme Court considers this law it should consider whether the committees currently used by 1,000 communities in Israel are also valid. It should not be legal for kibbutzim founded many years ago to be allowed to uphold an institution that is considered illegal in other communities that were founded more recently. Either all be allowed to have acceptance committees or none should. It shouldn’t be considered “racist” for some and not for others.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Terra Incognita: Robert Ford's Heroic Diplomacy

Terra Incognita: Robert Ford’s heroic diplomacy
10/25/2011 23:09

US envoy to Syria's personal investigation of abuses and his shows of support for protestors is a welcome sign.

The American decision to withdraw Ambassador Robert Stephen Ford from Syria should raise eyebrows, not only because it represents a fundamental fear for his safety, but also because of what he has come to represent.

Through Ford’s courageous use of personal diplomacy, travelling to the most dangerous areas of Syria to show support for the protestors, he has carved out a niche for himself in the region, defying stereotypes about what diplomats can and should do.

On the face of it the ambassador’s position and biography don’t necessarily lend themselves to this type of action. A career diplomat , Mr. Ford, born in Denver, Colorado in 1958, is considered one of the foremost Arabists in the State Department.

He served in the Peace Corps and obtained a BA and MA from Johns Hopkins University before entering the US foreign service in 1985.

Since 1985 he has been posted throughout the Middle East, most notably in Iraq after the American invasion and in Algeria from 2006 to 2008.

His posting to Syria in late 2010 was considered important because the US had withdrawn its ambassador to Syria in 2005 after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister.

Ford’s work in Syria has almost all taken place against the backdrop of the “Arab Spring.” During his confirmation hearings with the US Senate, before being posted to Damascus, Ford had promised that “unfiltered straight talk with the Syrian government will be my mission priority.”

It is interesting that through June of 2011 he was in fact criticized for doing little to show support for the protestors that Bashar Assad’s regime was gunning down in the streets. Richard Grenell, writing at the, asked, “Shouldn’t Ford be calling attention to and showing the violence coming from Assad’s government?” He also thought the US should withdraw its ambassador to protest the crackdown.

In early July, however, Ford made an important and visible statement against the actions of the Syrian regime when he visited Hama with the French ambassador, Eric Chevallier. After his factfinding trip, which brought temporary respite to the besieged protestors in the city, he told media that “the violence that the Syrian government is inflicting on Syrian protesters, from our point of view, is grotesque. It’s abhorrent.”

He also articulated a new type of “muscular” diplomacy: “I don’t particularly care [if Syria is angry], because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protesters. I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to... I’m going keep moving around the country. I can’t stop.”

Since July, Ford has been active in articulating opposition to the Syrian regime’s methods and showing support for those who oppose Assad. In September he travelled to meet with Hasan Abdel-Azim, an opposition figure. Pro-Assad protestors surrounded the ambassador’s vehicle, pelted him with tomatoes and eggs and temporarily interdicted his motorcade.

Stephen Ford is not the first US diplomat to find himself in harm’s way. One hundred and eleven US diplomats have been murdered or come to a bad end since 1780. Many died in Pakistan as a result of terrorism and most were not of ambassadorial rank.

One of the most famous cases of an American diplomat being murdered while at his post was that of Vice-Consul Robert Imbrie. Imbrie was beaten to death by a mob in Teheran in 1924 after being mistaken for a member of the Bahai faith. Local Islamists had whipped themselves into a rage, convinced that Bahais had poisoned a well .

Cleo Noel, US ambassador to the Sudan, was killed by Palestinian members of Black September in 1973. The US ambassador to Beirut, Frances Meloy, was murdered in 1977. Adolph Dubs, the US ambassador to Afghanistan was killed in 1979 when terrorists tried to kidnap him.

Ford’s departure from Syria is apparently based on credible intelligence that certain elements wanted him to meet a similar end.

The kind of blunt, heroic diplomacy that Ford has come to represent is a departure from the long-standing practice of US State Department functionaries, especially those considered Arabists, of toeing the line when it comes to dictators and human rights abuses.

Especially in the Middle East, US diplomats have been stricken with what is often termed “clientitis”; staying in a country too long and becoming too attached to it, rather than representing US interests.

US ambassadors in Saudi Arabia have been loathe to condemn killings in the Qatif region, in the Gulf states the US representatives do little to speak out on the mass human rights abuses, which amount to slavery, against foreign workers.

In Iraq, where it has just been announced that Iran and Turkey are both cooperating to suppress the Kurds, including incursions into Iraq, the US has remained silent.

There is obviously a question as to what constitutes going beyond the diplomatic mission’s purview, such as meeting with illegal opposition figures. But Mr. Ford’s personal investigation of abuses and his shows of support for protestors is a welcome sign, one that the US State Department might consider repeating in the future.

The writer received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute of Market Studies.

Terra Incognita: Disgraceful Behavior

Terra Incognita: Disgraceful behavior
11/01/2011 22:53

The desecration of Sammy Ofer’s grave is but the latest in a shameful wave of hate directed at an Israeli success story.

Last week, shipping tycoon Sammy Ofer’s grave in Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery was vandalized. It could have been worse, to be sure. The vandal – no, the savage – drew only a small “price tag” on the grave. But the act was merely the latest in a series of disgraceful behavior directed at the Ofer family over the past six months.

By most accounts the Ofer brothers, quiet and unassuming but massively wealthy, were decent men. Sammy and his brother Yuli were born in Rumania in the early 1920s. Their family came to Mandatory Palestine in 1924 and resided in Haifa. Both men served in the Israeli army, Sammy in the nascent Navy because he had been in the Royal Navy, and his brother in the army. Sammy bought his first ship in 1950 and after his brother left the army, mustering out as a Major, the two men founded a shipping company which would become the basis for the Ofer Brothers Group.

As Nehemia Shtrasler of Haaretz tells it, Sammy Ofer made his bones abroad.

“The truth is that Ofer made his fortune abroad, and only afterward returned to Israel in order to invest the profits here....He left Israel in the late 1960s and went to live in London, where he founded a shipping company that was very successful. He took great risks, took out huge loans and purchased ships during times of crisis, when everyone was afraidli success story.�㛲���ᦗ�Last wl prepared in times of prosperity.”

With his brother Yuli, he acquired other assets besides shipping, including Bank Mizrahi, several chemical and oil businesses and dabbled in real estate. The Ofer brothers became Israel’s wealthiest people and grew their shipping business into one of the biggest in the world. They also gave handsomely to charity.

BUT SOME Israelis, it seems, hated them and felt suspicious of their wealth. They were the rich tycoons, the ones the protestors blame for the high rents and cottage cheese prices. They were the evil capitalists.

In May, the US State Department slapped sanctions on seven companies, the Ofer brothers’ among them, for dealing with Iran and barred them from receiving US export licenses and receiving loans of over $10 million from US financial institutions.

This revelation was accepted without question by the Israeli public, media and politicians, all of whom brandished their knives to strike down the company that could now be accused of putting profits above patriotism.

Israel’s politicians and media experts didn’t bother to digest what the Ofer brothers were accused of – the State Department claimed they didn’t do due diligence when they sold a tanker they owned jointly with another company to a straw company that was in fact acting on behalf of Iran.

Yossi Melman at Haaretz wrote that “the Ofer Brothers Group may be scurrying into damage control in Israel, Singapore, London and Washington, after the United States blacklisted it for trading with Iran, but Israel seems to be doing nothing to enforce international sanctions on Iran.”

Israel’s politicians across the political spectrum demanded an immediate investigation by the attorney-general and Knesset. Shelly Yacimovich of Labor claimed “the prime minister must protect Israel’s economy against such an occurrence and pursue justice against the companies’ owners.” A special Knesset panel was convened to investigate the supposed wrongdoing.

But then the knives were sheathed. The Knesset committee disappeared. The attorney- general did nothing.

Sammy Ofer died in early June. One Obituary read: “Israeli billionaire involved in Iran dealings dies in Tel Aviv.” At his funeral, his son Idan said, “for him, Zionism wasn’t merely an ideal, but a commandment to action.” Sammy’s brother Yuli died in September. Conveniently, the next day the press reported: “US drops Ofer brothers company from Iran Sanctions List” (Haaretz, Sept. 13).

Even though they were in their late 80s, the controversy may have driven the poor men to an early grave.

One thing that’s clear regarding the ordeal the Ofers were forced to go through is that, as far as I can tell, not one politician or media personality has apologized. Why should Shelly Yacimovich, Aryeh Eldad or Nachman Shai, among the accusers, say “we were wrong, it turns out that we jumped to conclusions”?

No, it is easier to have a savage outburst, to accuse men who gave their entire lives to Israel, who devoted themselves not only to the defense of the country but also to making it a world financial power, of wanting some piddling profit from the sale of one rusty tanker to an Iranian straw company.

One wonders, if the Ofers had simply left Israel in 1960 and not returned, building their fortune abroad, where all their money was made anyway, would not their lives have ended differently?

Sammy’s grave would probably not have been vandalized, at least not by his own people. Furthermore he wouldn’t have been hounded to his dying day.

Mr. Ofer couldn’t even donate money in Israel without people castigating him for it.

In 2006 when he had given money to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art he was slandered and libeled so much he withdrew the donation, writing, “Sorry for wanting to contribute, an open letter to the art lovers in Tel Aviv and Israel.”

That is a sad testament to the place the Ofers called home. Why is that? Why can’t Israelis look up to men like the Ofers, see success and feel proud? The Ofers represented one of the best success stories in the region. The country should have produced ten thousand more Ofers rather than producing ten thousand more critics capable of unfounded hateful accusations.

There should be outrage over the desecration at Trumpeldor Cemetery, just as there is outrage at all these heinous “price tag” attacks.

The writer has a Ph.D from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
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