Short Lived

Well, friends, I have good news and bad news.

If you haven’t already guessed by your keen observation of the title of this post, my blog is going to be short lived. I can’t complain for the reason why I have been asked to discontinue my blog is because of my new job!

I recently started working as the administrative/personal assistant at the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. Since I am in the habit of sharing with you I will explain that the caucus is officially made up of 16 MKs from across the political spectrum who strive to develop and cultivate relationships with Christian leaders worldwide. More information can be obtained from our website or by contacting me directly at: ayalkell@gmail.com

As much of my job is interacting with important members of the Israeli government and Knesset as well as foreign dignitaries, I now have to be extraordinarily careful about what I say and who I say it to. I am accountable to the Christian Allies Caucus now and this blog does not represent their views.

I hope to have the opportunity to continue blogging in the future, so don’t forget about me.  Unfortunately, I can’t weigh in on the current “social justice” protests in Israel or the continued financial crisis in America but I’d be happy to share my personal thoughts with you on an individual level. Feel free to contact me at any time.

I don’t want to un-publish or remove the few posts I did manage to get out so here is a disclaimer:

The opinions in the posts below reflect solely the personal opinions of Ayal Kellman (and Avi Bieler) only. They were written before I was hired to work for the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and only I take full responsibility for my words.

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Tent City (Guest Post)

My friend Avi Bieler deserves a warm welcome to the blogosphere (applause…). Even though he doesn’t like to read blogs, he sure knows how to write an entertaining and informative post.

Hello all!  I’d like to thank Ayal for this glorious opportunity despite the fact that I don’t read his blog.  Actually, I don’t read anyone’s blog.  I think blogs are unnecessary and narcissistic.  Don’t fret though; I’m not in danger of being a hypocrite because I’m a narcissist.  I’ll be damned if I read this post though, so forgive any typos.

Shamolov Berkovich said, “It’s too bad that there are more photographers than protesters here, but I’m glad that the media are helping people notice this social issue. It’s a start.”

 

Look at that quote.  The comparative “than” is used here.  In this case, the honored MK is comparing the number of protestors to photographers without any awareness of the clear irony.  There are more photographers than protesters.  “Too bad” she says.  This quote is a microcosm of what has been going on in the Israeli media recently.  We have been told that the peasants are rising up in Tel Aviv.  No doubt, this is the Jewish Spring!  A follow up to the glorious cottage cheese intifada!  William Wallace has taken the field!  Only the thing is that he brought about 50 Scotsmen with him.

When is a protest a significant protest?  There are over 403,000 people living in TA.  Because the media has been reporting “hundreds” of martyrs coming to these protests let us assume for their sake that there are 999 people in the tent city.  That means that a whole .25 percent of the population has come!   To put this in context this would be similar to 20,000 people coming to Tahrir Square at the height of the Egyptian revolution…and playing guitar.  (Please check my math, I’m terrible.  When I see numbers I become like Sarah Conner in T2.  The number is based on Cairo’s population.  This parenthetical comment was brought to you by Bill Simmons)

So why Israeli media, why?  Don’t worry, this isn’t a bias rant.  Rather, the accusation is lazy journalism.  Recently, I have become obsessed with media outlets using Facebook as a source.  It seems that those who control the pen don’t understand that people will join a Facebook group without really caring (or even knowing) what it’s about.  In addition, people from around the world can join making the numbers even less meaningful in terms of predicting trends within a country.  Yediot Achronot is the biggest perpetrator of this sin in my opinion, although I have seen it committed by everyone.

Based on the fact that I don’t remember seeing this before the winter, I’m going to make a completely unsubstantiated claim (hmmmm, I could get used to blogs).  Following the various revolutions that took place in the Arab world, the internet has gained great acclaim as a useful tool for dissidents.  Ignoring the fact that revolutions were frequent in the Arab world before Al Gore knew how to type and the governments (particularly in Egypt) had to extinguish many flames over the last few years, Twitter and Facebook received a lot of credit for helping to organize the demonstrations. This has given the interweb good news source status.  When any group gets more than a thousand followers it means that something significant is happening.

Obviously, this is ridiculous.  Even if you want to make the claim that any group that has a hundred thousand members is significant, you run into problems.  What happened to the Third Intifada?  I’m sure that many people who joined that group suffer the occupation from many thousand miles away.   Here’s the thing though.  It’s easy to look at Facebook, certainly easier than conducting interviews and doing real research.  This is compounded by media’s endless search for interesting stories that drive internet traffic.  The slightest excuse for a flashy headline is enough.

This relates to our grand protest.  In reality, there are simply not so many people involved in this protest.  However, it’s a good story that recalls the wonders of 1960s America and the croissants of the French Revolution.  So the media took the “small Facebook group” (at least it actually exists in this case) and blew it up well beyond what it actually is.  This is not to say that the economic system of Israel doesn’t need inspecting, it just wouldn’t have been as sexy to report Bibi’s ideas of land reform that have existed for some time now.

When reading newspapers please keep this in mind; many of the things we are told are important, are only important for the business of newspapers. Beware of using them to predict trends or to gain information on trends within the Israeli population.  But don’t take it from me, I hate blogs.

Posted in Guest Post, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Boycott

It always comes back to freedom of speech.

This week the Israeli Knesset signed into law a bill that effectively criminalizes calling for and/or encouraging a boycott of  Israeli goods and companies just for being associated with Israel. The law allows Israeli companies (or individuals) who could potentially suffer a financial loss from an organized boycott to sue and receive damages.

Just to be clear, the law does not prohibit all boycotts – it is still entirely legitimate (and encouraged?) to participate in and call for a boycott of cottage cheese. In addition, the law cannot prohibit an individual from making a personal and private choice not to buy certain products because they are Israeli (although it seems like that would be quite a feat for a resident of Israeli to pull off – more on this in a minute) as long as he does not make a public plea for others to join him.

As far as I know, not many Israelis are calling to boycott all Israeli products.  I’m pretty sure they couldn’t do so and continue living in this country in good conscience. I’m also pretty sure that the law can’t sanction suing residents of other countries who call for boycotting Israeli goods. Therefore, the law is clearly there to protect residents of and companies located in the West Bank. The law is obviously directed at individuals and NGO’s on the Left who call for a boycott of goods originating from Jewish sources over the Green Line.

I suppose that there is a legitimate concern that, if enough people participate in a boycott, these companies and individuals will lose money and their image will suffer for it. However, I don’t believe that  an anti-boycott bill is the most effective way of preventing boycotts. As much as I disagree with their goals, I believe that calling for and participating in a boycott should remain within the realm of freedom of speech. Moreover, I’m not convinced that the number of people participating in boycotts are enough to cause such significant losses to these companies revenues that the government has to intervene. Either way, businesses should be prepared for fluctuations in their profits. A profitable company should be structured in such a way that it fosters creativity, innovation and efficiency. If it suffers losses because of a boycott, perhaps it’s time to market new products or focus on different sectors of the population etc.

It’s evident that the framers of this law saw this as an opportunity to intervene on political grounds. This is another attempt by the Right to silence the Left through legislation. To me it says, “we are out of ideas.” Where is the hard work that is necessary to debate the Left in the coffee shop discussions, academia, and the media? That those on the Right seem so insecure about their own ideology that they resort to pitiful attempts at silencing the Left is alarming. (It would serve them – the Right – right if individuals who sport t-shirts declaring that they only buy from Jews were sued as well.)

The framers of the bill defend themselves by noting that the US has the American Export Administration Act which incidentally helped serve as the basis for their bill. Either they don’t understand the Act or they are trying to pull a fast one (I’m not sure which is worse…). I imagine that the reason the AEAA is mentioned in the bill is because the Act specifically mentions protecting Israel from the Arab League Boycott. The difference is that there is no American law which prohibits calling for and publicly participating in a boycott of American products or companies. Boycotts are a legitimate form of political and economic expression. The goal of the AEAA is not to silence political expression, rather it is meant to ensure that American companies do not become tools of an enemy nation’s foreign policy.

The fight for this bill is not over and I hope that the Supreme Court overturns it. I will conclude with a question but be sure to stay tuned for more legislation aimed at silencing the Left.

Where is the line between a boycott and ideological discrimination?

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Rabbinic Immunity?

Now that my first exam is over and the paper that was due is handed in, I guess I owe you a blog post. Blogging is officially not as much fun when I’m not procrastinating…

This issue was discussed to death over Shabbat (and my Friday FB status) but here goes: Over a year ago, a book was published called “Torat Hamelech” discussing the Torah’s approach to killing innocents during times of war. (Disclaimer – I have not read the book.) Reportedly, the book condones preemptively killing Arabs including innocent men, women and children under certain wartime conditions. The Israeli government concluded that the book might be incitement to racism and violence and called the two authors of the book into questioning. As far as I know, they were not arrested or charged with any crime. Since then, the government has also called for questioning the Rabbis who wrote approbations for the book. The first Rabbi, Rav Yischak Ginzburg was questioned and was also not charged. Ravs Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef (son of Shas leader and Sefardi posek Rav Ovadia Yosef) so far have refused to report for questioning. The issue reached a boiling point last week when Rav Lior was arrested, brought to the police station, questioned for two hours and released.

This arrest of Rav Lior led to some minor rioting and probably winded the ever-growing gap between the national-religious population and the Government of Israel. It has also sparked public discussion of issues such as the respective weight of law and order vs. freedom of speech and Rabbinic freedom of speech.

In Western democracies, freedom of speech is a seminal value. At the same time, it is not absolute and has limits. It is generally accepted that freedom of speech is limited when one’s speech creates a clear and present danger. The classic example is screaming “fire” in a crowded theater. Based on this principle and example, there are two components; content and context. Both conditions have to be there in order to justify limiting freedom of speech. Yelling “fire” in the village square might not be a clear and present danger and would have to be tolerated. It is clear that the government felt that what the authors of Torat Hamelech and the book’s endorsers were advocating were problematic. Coupled with sporadic cases of outright Jewish terrorism and increasing settler violence against Palestinians, the government called the authors and endorsers in for questioning on account of incitement to racism. (As a side, I don’t know influential the authors of the book are outside their bloc of settlements but Ravs Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef are two of the more influential Rabbis in the national-religious community. Perhaps this is the source of the government’s concern.)

This assumption can certainly be argued. It is not 100% clear (even to me) that the book constitutes incitement to violence and a clear and present danger. Moreover, I wholeheartedly agree with the criticism of discrimination, that the police rush to investigate Rabbis for writing a book but does nothing when a liberal University professor proclaims that we must break the elbows of right wing extremists. Likewise, we don’t arrest every Arab Imam or political leader who make blatant anti-Semitic and violent remarks. Still, none of these problems excuse Rabbis from reporting for questioning!

I would like to note the second Mishnah in the third chapter of Pirkei Avot. Rabbi Hanina recognizes the value of law and order to the point where he recommends that we pray for the welfare of the “malchut”which, in his time, was the Roman Empire. If Rabbis don’t report for questioning, how can we expect Imams to report. What type of example are the Rabbis setting for their constituents?

True, “dina d’malchuta” (the law of the land) doesn’t always apply. In fact, as Jews we would be obligated to break the controversial anti-circumcision law that is being discussed in San Francisco. However, I don’t think that is the case here at all!

Again, the issue is not whether they are inciting to hatred or not. What gives them the right to refuse to report for questioning? If I don’t think taxes are just, can I stop paying them? Even if they think they should be protected here by freedom of speech in this case, they don’t get an exemption from obeying the law if the government has good reason to believe that they abrogated their freedom. Clearly the government felt that there was a problem and acted on it in the interest of peace and security. My problem is not that the Rabbis are hiding behind freedom of speech.  It is that they think because they are dealing with Torah, they don’t even need freedom of speech to protect them. I sincerely hope they haven’t forgotten the lesson of Rabbi Hanina.

To all my avid readers (I’m sure I must have some) – don’t worry, I have four exams left and four more papers to hand in. You know what that means? Plenty of procrastination goodness coming your way…

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Perspective

I think I’m going to have to improve my post titling skills. I seem to have titled my first post “Welcome To My Perspective” even though I focused nearly exclusively on the “welcome” part. Well this time, I’m going to focus on “perspective” while ignoring the “my” element because I believe that its still (and ever) developing. Moreover, I’m not sure I could boil my perspective down into one concise post even if I tried. I hope that in posts that follow, I can deliver my perspective on a variety of issues to you, my readers.

We begin. I’m a firm believer in trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When we enter a debate or discussion with another person, we should really keep in mind that we are presenting our own unique perspective and that we can never fully understand where the other person is coming from without knowing what he knows and experiencing what he has. To me, this idea is humbling and one that I try to recall in all my encounters.

Recently and on separate occasions, Freakonomics posted links to studies that I think demonstrate this:

1) One of the contentious issues that has divided Democrats and Republicans in recent years is the issue of waterboarding and whether it is considered torture or not. Waterboarding is a form of advanced interrogation/torture that is meant to simulate drowning – from what I’m told it’s quite an unpleasant experience. Former GOP nominee John McCain is known for opposing the use waterboarding, having been subjected to torture himself as a POW. Two researchers set out to prove that McCain opposes waterboarding while many of his Republican colleagues support it because of an “empathy gap”. As part of the study, people who were subjected to mild forms of torture were more likely to oppose the employment of interrogation techniques than members of the control group who were not subjected to the mild forms of torture. They conclude that those of us who have never experienced torture tend to under-estimate just how intense the pain is and we are therefore quick to justify its usage.

Still, many claim that the ends justify the means, that the information obtained as a result of waterboarding far outweighs the pain it causes. While they may be right, I challenge them to maintain that waterboarding is a legitimate and justifiable form of interrogation after undergoing simulated torture or other forms of intense pain.

2) The second study is less controversial but fascinating nonetheless. It concludes that female children have a profound impact on a representative’s propensity to vote liberally, particularly regarding productive rights. To me, this demonstrates the same principle, that the closer one is to a given situation, positions are liable to change. Even those who are opposed to abortion from an ideological perspective seem to soften their stance when they have daughters.

This brings me to another idea that was noted by Steven Levitt, one of the authors of Freakonomics. He proposed a litmus test for determining what type of activities should be legal and which should be forbidden: would you be OK if your daughter took it up as a full-time profession. For example, he stated that he would be proud if his daughter was a professional poker player so there is no reason poker should be illegal. On the other hand, he would not approve of his daughter taking up the oldest profession in the world…I don’t know if there is such a thing as a professional drug user so I’m not sure the test works across the board but I think its similar to what I’ve been discussing for the past 600 words.

Before passing judgement on something or someone, try putting yourself in their shoes.

(And yes, I did write most of this when I should have been studying…)

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Welcome To My Perspective

As every good husband should, I am taking a cue from my wife and starting a blog. Better late than never…

As some of you may know, this is really my second foray into the blogosphere. Others may have encountered me through my posts on Facebook, of which I am very proud as they tend to incite sometimes heated and always engaging discussions. Despite being slightly older (and hopefully wiser), the task of blogging is still as daunting as ever.

When it comes to blogging, I have always struggled with finding something that I can call my own, that is unique and that adds value. As an avid reader of many blogs, I know that there is a lot out there, covering pretty much every topic you could ever dream of. I guess I’ve realized that it is not the content but rather the perspective that will make my blog unique. As humans we are all individuals with our own unique take on the world and its happenings. It is this that I hope to share with you.

The reason that I’ve called my blog “Counterpoint” is that I’ve always wanted to start a forum with a friend where we could analyze and present opposing sides on hot-button issues of the day. I don’t know if and when I’ll get there but if anyone would like to join me, I’m open…

Other than that, I honestly don’t know where I want to go with this blog. I am currently seeking employment after 5 long years of University and two degrees to show for it. To that end, its always beneficial to showcase your writing skills and how well you express yourself. At the same time, I don’t want to bore my readers (do I even have any?) so I promise to search for something interesting that works for both me and you guys. All I ask is a little patience on your part.

If all else fails, this blog will serve as a potent distraction from all the studying and paper-writing that I should be doing over the next couple of months. And if it helps distract you from your work or studying, keep in mind the time that went into it and how long I was able to procrastinate by writing it :)

So to sum up: I’m starting a blog. I plan on using it as a productive distraction from studying and paper-writing. I don’t really know what I want to write about so I’m open to suggestions… (And no, I will NOT sum up the news for those of you who are too lazy to do so yourselves.)

Shabbat Shalom!

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