Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Terra Incognita: Angela Merkel, Stand Strong Against Euro-Bonds

Angela Merkel, stand strong against Euro-bonds!
Jerusalem Post
08/23/2011 22:56

Europe’s stronger economies must keep the financial barbarians at bay.

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

The financial barbarians are at the gates of the Euro. Ironically, today it is Germany – home of the barbarians who destroyed Europe’s first common market, Rome – that is standing against the new debt-indulging savages.

In recent days European Union bureaucrats and other commentators have been arguing that a long term solution to the debt problems haunting certain European countries could be found in Euro bonds.

Olli Rehn, EU Economics and Monetary Affairs commissioner, has explained that “These euro securities would aim to strengthen fiscal discipline and increase stability in the euro area through the markets.”

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso has been arguing for months that a common Euro Zone bond might be a good idea. He said in December: “Let us not kill the euro bonds idea for the future, but let us concentrate now on what we can do quickly.”

A 2011 paper by Prof. Nicholas Economides and Prof. Roy Smith at NYU suggested a similar type of bond for Europe called a Trichet bond, after European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet. In this scenario, the EU would issue bonds that could be exchanged for the rotting debt of certain EU nations.

“Present holders of sovereign debt will be exchanging low-quality bonds with limited liquidity for higher-quality bonds with greater liquidity.” They also argued that “without a workable EU remedy for the sovereign-debt problems, countries like Portugal, Spain and Italy are being treated by the market, (which so far has ignored the European rescue fund and related efforts to calm the crisis) as potential defaulters.”

The idea being presented is that the EU should issue a form of debt in order that junk bonds can be traded in for higher-quality bonds.

This is sort of like the collateralized debt obligations that allowed supprime mortgages to be resold as “safe” investments – the shenanigan that created the American financial meltdown of 2008. The idea for the Euro bond is only slightly different than the Trichet bond; it supposes that the EU create bonds that the 17-nation EU would be responsible for repaying in order to refinance the debt of countries that can’t keep themselves off the hooch.

GERMAN CHANCELLOR Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have both rejected the idea of Euro bonds. Commentators have pointed out that issuing such bonds might go against the constitutions of member states. It would also increase the power of the EU, and diminish the budgetary independence of the member states.

Goldman Sachs economist Dirk Schumacher noted that it would mean “further change of the institutional setup of the euro zone, with more oversight and control from Brussels.”

Those promoting Euro bonds are trying to push them through the door when European countries are at their weakest. They claim they are the only way to save the Euro.

In essence they are using the crises to forever weaken the rights of hardworking, financially responsible Europeans, pushing through a new financial instrument that would compel the Germans and French to work forever in a form of indentured servitude so that Greek, Italian and Spanish governments can continue to rack up debts. It is a twisted form of Karl Marx’s 1875 creed “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

The Germans and French have the ability, the others have the need.

The problem is that the Germans and French (and other responsible European nations) are already being forced to pay for the mistakes of weaker economies. In May 2010, as part of a rescue package to save European debtor nations, the European Central Bank (ECB) began purchasing the sovereign debt of those countries. So far it has bought 110 billion Euros worth of Spanish and Italian debt. The reason is to keep the borrowing costs of these nations lower, keeping their interest rates lower so they don’t get themselves even deeper in debt. This is a short-term solution of course; the ECB can’t buy debt forever. In fact, the cap on this latest bailout fund is 450 billion euros. But the ECB has been right to try to stem the flow, because some of the rise in interest rates on these nation’s bonds have been caused by speculators.

THE PROBLEM with the EU-bond scenario is that it would make Germany responsible for the actions of others. Greece has managed to rack up debt to a tune of 160% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while Italy’s is at 120%. By contrast, Germany owes just 80% – still a high figure. Germany is Europe’s most productive nation, and the anchor of the Euro, yet it is being pushed into a corner. There is a belief that if Greece or Italy is allowed to default on its debt that the debt contagion would spread to France and then to Germany. To save Germany, therefore, the financial barbarians must be kept at bay.

But the problem is that the barbarians are already inside the gates, and are being allowed, every day, to eat away at the sound policies of other countries. The solution shouldn’t be to give the barbarians a blank check called Euro bonds that allows them to make other nations keep paying for their mistakes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Terra Incognita The Boring Jewish State?

The Jerusalem Post
Terra Incognita: The boring Jewish state?
08/17/2011 00:00

Why is there such a fear of taking Jews to see minorities of Israel? Why fear of them meeting Russians, Yemenites, Moroccans, Ethiopians?

‘I’m Japanese, but every time I go back to the home country, it’s just boring, the whole story of the mythical samurai past. Finally I got an opportunity to visit Japan via a Japanese cultural association with the goal of studying and interacting with the ‘other.’ We met North Korean refugees seeking asylum, Chinese minorities, an American working in a corporate firm, a member of an indigenous minority from Okinawa and gay activists. Only through meeting all these people could I finally appreciate Japan. Japanese-Americans are tired of hearing just Japan’s Japanese history; to relate to their ancient land, they must learn about the ‘other.’”

Of course, these words were never spoken by a Japanese person. How many Japanese-Americans, if they care about Japan, can only relate to it if they relate to the Chinese minorities there? How many Indian-Americans can only relate to mother India by relating to the Parsi minority in Mumbai? How many Iranian-Americans find they can care about Iran only through learning about its Azeri and Baluchi communities? Yet some portion of the world’s Jewish community finds that the only thing interesting in Israel is stories of Beduin, Israeli-Arabs, African refugees and Palestinians.

Israel is just downright boring, so long as it involves stories about the Jews.

Sarah Schonberg echoed these sentiments in an oped in The Forward: “American youth are indifferent to hearing just one story and being told to accept it without question.” She tells how she had little interest in Israel until she attended a Hebrew College trip aimed at introducing American Jews to the “other” there, namely Israeli Arabs. “To overlook a population of this size is akin to ignoring the entire black, Asian, Native-American and multi-racial populations in the US,” she wrote.

Her story is similar to many other stories of Jews who find Israel mundane, unless they can view the country through the prism of social justice and activism for minority rights.

Through generations of living as minorities in the Diaspora, Jews have been at the forefront of fighting for minority rights. It’s no surprise that it was a Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, who came up with the concept of the “other.” So when Jews come to Israel, they immediately want to find the minorities, accustomed as they are to the concept that only minorities are interesting. Because Jews tend to view the concept of what constitutes a Jew through the prism with which they grew up, they also tend to homogenize the Jewish community in Israel. Thus, while Schonberg pays passing heed to the “cultural diversity that makes up the Jewish community in Israel,” she doesn’t mention any Jewish minorities.

The type of fact-finding trip that Hebrew College ran has become increasingly common. The New Israel Fund has been organizing them for a while, bringing Jews from the US to Israel to see the “other” on study tours. A standard trip consists of visits with Beduin, Israeli Arabs, African refugees, more Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Palestinians in Hebron, and maybe, if people are lucky, more Beduin and, as an aside, an Ethiopian Jew.

In transit, the tour leaders point out the “Jews”: hotels in Tel Aviv, wineries in Zichron Ya’acov, everything to present Jews as the wealthiest, “whitest” elite in the country, in contrast to the poverty-stricken, discriminated- against “black” minorities. This plays well to American Jewish sentiments. As veterans in the civil rights struggle, American Jews are used to the dichotomy of white and black, and as fighters for immigrant rights, they are used to the Manichean absolutes of the wealthy and the poor.

The types of trips now being sold, primarily to American Jews, seek to “connect” them with Israel the only way the trip leaders know how: through the “others” with whom Jews feel naturally comfortable.

Contrast this with the Zionistic tours that give Jews “one story.”

But why is there no happy medium? Why is there such a fear of taking Jews to see the Jewish minorities of Israel? Why is there a fear of letting them meet Russians, Yemenites, Moroccans, Ethiopians and haredim, to name a few? The fear on the part of the birthright trips, and those like them, is that Jews might be shocked to see poverty and not think the country a success. The fear on the part of those like the New Israel Fund or Hebrew College is that they might not be able to push their agenda of the “other.”

It isn’t all the fault of the educators; people like Schonberg travel all over the world, and find most countries fascinating without spending all their time among the “other.” In Iran they don’t look for Baluchis, in Japan they don’t look for Koreans, in South Africa they don’t need Afrikaners, in Egypt they don’t want to meet Nubians. They are fine with majority narratives for every country except Israel and America. The cultural milieu from which they come ascribes boring traits to Jews.

There is nothing wrong with introducing people to the “other” in Israel, but it is essential that they see all the others, not just a cookie-cutter image from the West into which Israel is forced to be subsumed so it can be understood.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Terra Incognita: Baseless Hatred of the Haredim

Terra Incognita: Baseless hatred of the haredim
08/10/2011 06:22

It is essential that people search their souls and ask why they acquiesce so easily to canards about the ultra-orthodox community and statements made against it.

One of the central messages of Tisha Be’av, which took place yesterday, is the consequences of Sinat Hinam or baseless hatred. During the period of the Second Temple Jews quarreled so much among themselves that it brought ruin upon the Jewish people.

Today, with the housing protests that have swept the country, it is worthwhile to pause and ponder one type of baseless hatred that is often not acknowledged: hatred of the Ultra-Orthodox or haredi community.


he savage hatred of haredim comes in many forms. It begins with the things people say; how the haredim are “parasites” who don’t pay taxes and don’t go to the army, that they beat their wives and create a “mini- Tehran” in their communities, that they are dirty, smelly “dosim” and that they “infiltrate” the wonderful utopian secular neighborhoods. Oh, and of course, they are ignorant donkeys who hate Zionism and are intolerant of homosexuals, Arabs and blacks.

This hate is on display everywhere in symbolic acts.

Swastikas sprayed on a synagogue in Kfar Yona, where the secular residents fear a haredi “takeover”. The Eruv (wire surrounding a religious community that allows them to carry items on Shabbat) is cut in Kiryat Yovel by self-proclaimed secular resistance fighters. The huge signs erected by Meretz during its campaign for Jerusalem city council in 2008 that read “End the Haredization of Jerusalem.” A student at Hebrew University does doctoral work analyzing how the haredim invaded Kiryat Yovel, as if anyone can imagine an open minded university sponsoring the work of someone wanting to analyze how Arabs “took over” the Wolfson neighborhood in Acre.

THE HATRED of the haredi population is greatest among those who preach tolerance. Meretz, a far left political party, campaigns to end the haredi infiltration of Jerusalem’s secular bastions, but at the same time it complains of racism when Jews don’t want Arabs moving into Pisgat Zeev. Righteous people denounce the “acceptance committee law” that allows small communities to reject applicants, but the same people don’t seem to mind if a secular community opposes haredim moving to the area simply because they might change the character of the neighborhood. There was an outcry in the country when Rabbis signed a letter asking people not to rent apartments to Arabs in Safed, but there is no outcry among the ‘civil rights’ lobby when Ram Fruman created the Forum for Secular Communities, whose sole goal is to prevent haredi people from moving to “secular” areas. Fruman says “Our association works on two levels – at the local level, in sharing experience, knowledge and resources; and at the national level, in creating a political lobby that can take the lead with public action.” One imagines if the haredim just disguised themselves as Arabs they would be welcomed by the “open minded” secular elites and their rights to move where they want would be defended at the highest levels.

The hatred of the haredi population transcends all political and ethnic groups in Israel; Arabs, leftists, the national religious, free market liberals, even Ethiopians, all have a generally visceral dislike for the black hat.

Nechamia Stressler, the usually level headed columnist at Haaretz says they offer only “rotten goods, rife with ignorance, superstition.” Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv, described them as “aloof and ignorant people who are growing at an alarming rate.” Yuval Tumarkin, artist and winner of the Israel Prize, once said “when one sees the haredim one understands why there was a Holocaust.”

HAREDIM KNOW they are hated. Aharon Yakter, who lives in Bnei Brak, recalls that “I grew up near Sheinkin street in Tel Aviv until the age of 18. They never yelled 'dos' back then.” But nowadays if a hated haredi shows his face on the trendy street the secular community would feel no qualms about banding together to oppose the “infiltration.” Every Israeli should be ashamed that they speak of the haredim the way they do. There is nothing honorable in denying religious Jews the ability to live where they want.

The myths used to justify baseless hatred of the haredim are legion. One accuses them of not going to the army, but there are an equal number of secular draft dodgers as there are haredi ones, and the secular draft dodgers aren’t forced to attend Yeshiva in lieu of army service. Yet we don’t call the secular population “parasites.”

The student unions and other social organizations rail against funding for Yeshiva students, but that funding, about NIS 135 million for 13,000 students in 2010, provides less than $250 a month to the religious students, similar or less than most secular student scholarships.

The student union complains about equality, but the reality is that the secular public drains the state’s coffers and drinks at the same trough as the haredi public.

And what about hatred of the state, do certain haredi groups (i.e Neturei Karta) hate the state at a greater rate than, say, university lecturers in the Cohn Institute of History and Philosophy at Tel Aviv University? At least the haredi public is not at the forefront of all the ‘human rights’ organizations that support boycotts and accuse the country of apartheid.

BASELESS HATRED didn’t disappear this Tisha Be’av, but it is essential that, at least every once in a while, people search their souls and ask why they acquiesce so easily to canards about the ultra-orthodox community and statements made against it. The haredim aren’t angels, and their community is not a utopia, but then again, neither are any of the communities in Israel. Recognizing that as a starting point will increase tolerance, for the better.

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