Once bitten twice shy

July 23rd, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Derek Cheng at NZ Herald reports:

 The Israelis at the centre of spying suspicions say the allegations are ridiculous and insulting – and they are demanding an apology. …

Mr Jordan said last night he and his friends were backpackers, not spies.

“It’s a big lie, and it’s rubbish,” he told 3 News.

“When I was in New Zealand, I was just a backpacker and was travelling New Zealand.” …

Israeli search and rescue team head Hilik Magnus said he helped facilitate their quick departure.

It was “ridiculous, impolite and even rude” to think that their swift departure was suspicious, he said.

“What should three youngsters do when one of their friends has died? Stay in the park without their belongings? Should they sit in the park and wait? Or should they go home, hug their families and share their sorrow with the family of their friend [who died]?” …

Mr Magnus, who led a seven-person team to Christchurch, said it was “total bullshit” to think that any spy activity was going on.

He denied reports that his team was caught in the Red Zone and had to be escorted out by police.

He said the team was allowed in the restricted area only once – under police supervision – to retrieve to belongings of dead Israelis Mr Levy and Mr Ingel.

“We are going to demand an apology [from the Southland Times, which broke the story] and if they don’t do it, we are going to sue. It is a stupid story. Nothing connected to reality.”

I have great sympathy for the three young backpackers who not only lost a mate, but had these allegations to deal with. Likewise it has been tough on the families of other Israelis killed.

And if there were factual errors in the Southland Times story, they should of course be corrected.

But in terms of the issue of the initial suspicions of the security agencies, the reality is once bitten twice shy. The attempt to get false NZ passports a few years ago by Israeli intelligence agencies was incredibly stupid and damaging. If that attempt had never occurred, then I doubt this whole issue would have occurred. But it is natural for our security agencies to be more vigilant or suspicious when there is a track record like Israel has.

I am a defender of much of what Israel does, as they do get treated unfairly and discriminated against in many ways. But I am not an uncritical defender. Actions have consequences, and if you abuse a friendly country’s hospitality once, then it is no surprise that security agencies will be more vigilant in future.

The young Israelis and their families (and the USAR team led by Mr Magnus) are innocent victims in all this, and will be justifiably angry at having to defend their names and reputations. They have my sympathy. But some of their anger should be directed at the former Israeli Government which authorised the attempted passport identity theft in the 2000s. If they had not done that, this whole episode might not have ever happened.

Mossad and the Earthquake

July 20th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Fred Tulett in the Southland Times reports:

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed one of three Israelis killed in the Christchurch earthquake was carrying multiple passports but is refusing to go into further detail because it is not in the national interest.

The police national computer has been under scrutiny in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake in February because of fears Israeli agents loaded software into the system that would allow backdoor access to highly sensitive intelligence files. …

The Security Intelligence Service ordered the checks as part of an urgent investigation of what one SIS officer described as the suspicious activities of several groups of Israelis during and immediately after the earthquake.

Three Israelis were among the 181 people who died when the earthquake destroyed most of Christchurch’s central business district on February 22. One was found to be carrying at least five passports.

On Sunday, February 26, Mizrahi’s body was recovered from the van and taken to the morgue where, during routine identity checks, he was found to be carrying at least five passports.

Meanwhile, the search and rescue squad dispatched from Israel had arrived in Christchurch but the offer of help was rejected by New Zealand authorities because the squad did not have accreditation from the United Nations.

According to Israeli newspaper reports, the squad was being funded by the parents of two other Israelis killed in the earthquake, Ofer Levy and Gabi Ingel, both 22, who were said to be in New Zealand on a backpacking holiday. The parents made repeated public appeals for the Israeli team to join the rescue, appeals that were dismissed by the New Zealand authorities until squad members were discovered in the sealed off “red zone” of the central city.

Readers may recall I had some minor involvement at the time. I blogged on 4 March:

As a disclosure, one of the dead Israelis is a close friend of one of my good Israeli friends – in fact the person who hosted me in Israel in November 2009. He approached me for assistance in getting a favourable decision made on getting the Israeli team admitted, and I put them in touch with the appropriate MFAT officials. I have no criticism of the MFAT officials who were very responsive and helpful, my criticism is of the ultimate decision maker, which I presume is someone in Civil Defence.

The family I was trying to help is the Ingel family. Their son, who was killed, is not under any suspicion at all of Mossad involvement. I have absolutely no doubt that the parents just genuinely wanted to maximise the chances of finding their son alive.

In terms of the other dead Israeli, with the alleged five passports, I have no first hand knowledge or involvement. The number of passports he had is not confirmed, and many Israelis do have multiple passports due to travel restrictions. I’m not aware of a suggestion that any of the passports were under a fake name, which would suggest something different.

I did become aware some months ago that there were suspicions over the Israeli who was killed in the van. But the evidence is very circumstantial – multiple passports, only a few tributes on a Facebook page etc. At the end of the day, I don’t know anything beyond what is in the paper, and that isn’t enough to make a conclusion on.

The PM is saying it is not in the national interest for him to comment. That to me suggests that the Government does think there may have been improper behaviour, but can’t prove it. And you don’t generally have Governments speculate on these issues unless they have proof.

Lunch with Daniel Pipes

August 25th, 2010 at 3:27 pm by David Farrar

Just returned from the Wellington Club where myself and around eight journalists had lunch with Daniel Pipes, who has authored more than a dozen books on the Middle East or Islam. The Israeli Ambassador kindly hosted the lunch.

Daniel spoke on five broad topics, and we had a lively Q+A. I’ll go through them, off memory.

Iraq & Afghanistan

Pipes was very pessimistic for both countries, and said that the aim of transforming the countries into modern democratic states has and will fail. Worse, he believes they won’t even achieve the status of “a decent place to live”.

What makes his view of significance, if he was a supporter of the invasions of both countries. So he is saying, that the US has failed and will fail.

I asked whether the US were too ambitious trying to turn Iraq into a post-war Germany or Japan, and whether they would have been better to basically shoot Saddam, and the next ten in the line of succession, tell No 11 that he is now in charge, that he should leave the Kurds alone, and bring in some elections and basically pull out, leaving the infrastructure, the Baath party, the army etc intact.

Pipes basically agreed, and said that has been his long held position – that the US should have found a strongman, who was more palatable than Saddam, and left him in charge. It would not have achieved a secular liberal democracy, but it might achieve the country becoming a semi-decent place to live.

US Policy

Pipes made a strong case that in terms of foreign policy, there is very little difference between Bush and Obama. Obama at one stage had more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than under Bush. Also Obama has approved 50 attacks from unmanned drones, compared to 38 under the entire Bush presidency.

Obama’s outreach to Islamic states, with his Cairo speech did result in a more favourable impression of the US at the time. But a year later, the views of the US in the Islamic world have shrunk back to what they were under Bush.


Pipes thinks there is no doubt Iran is developing nuclear weapon – and that in fact it is a logical thing for Iran to do, as it makes you a military power, but in a far cheaper fashion than an increase in conventional forces.

He decried both the Bush and Obama strategy on Iran on the basis he has yet to work out what either of them is.

Pipes believes the threat of a nuclear armed Iran, under its current leadership, is so dangerous, that a military strike will be necessary.

I actually pushed back against this, on the basis that most Iranians want to get rid of their President, and an attack on their nuclear facilities is the one thing which will make his popularity soar, and guarantee the hardliners keep control for at least a generation.

Pipes said that he does think that Iran is the one country where the Islamic leadership is under real threat, and if left alone they are likely to be removed from power in the future. However he still regards the danger in the interim of an Islamic Iran with nuclear weapons to be so great, that he still thinks a strike is needed – but accepts the consequences will be a massive increase in terrorism etc.

Israel & Palestine

Pipes is a pessimist on a diplomatic solution. He asserts that you only have diplomatic solutions after the war is over, not as a way to stop a war. Until one side “wins” diplomacy will not work.

His preferred course of action is to try and increase the proportion of Palestinians who accept Israel has a right to exist from 20% to over 50%. He says only when a majority of Palestinians accept they will not succeed with their desire to destroy Israel, will a diplomatic solution have any chance of working.

Islam and Europe

Pipes says the growing Islamic population in Europe is partly due to the indigenous populations not producing enough children to maintain population, and partly the desire of people in Islamic countries to move to places with a better standard of living.

He says that there are three possible paths ahead:

  1. Europe muddles through with peaceful co-existence. He says that he sees no evidence at all that this is the likely scenario.
  2. Over time Europe becomes more “Islamised” with Islam as the dominant religion in Europe, and wide-spread sharia law – even some Islamic states in Europe.
  3. A massive back-lash from the indigenous Europeans, with neo-fascist and even fascist parties gaining support across the Europe.

A vigorous discussion on this topic. Canada was held up as one of the few Western countries which has managed Muslim immigration, which has not been radical Islamists. I suggested that NZ has also been successful at having Muslim immigrants, with almost no radicalisation here.

Pipes suggestion for keeping it that way, is that one should not discriminate against Muslims who wish to migrate here, but that one should absolutely discriminate against Islamists.

He said many people do not get the difference between Islam/Muslims and Islamism/Islamists. He says Islam is a religion like Judaism, Christianity etc. Islamism is a political belief like communism, zionism, fascism.

Was a very interesting 90 minute lunch and discussion, even if somewhat depressing in terms of the outlook for key conflicts, and for Europe. Barry Soper commented that it made him glad to live in New Zealand – for which I have to agree.

Editorials 8 June 2010

June 8th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald says work can make you better:

For some time, the startling increase in the number of people on sickness and invalids benefits has been as vexing as it is worrying. Have we become a sickly society? Is this the logical consequence of an ageing population? The relentless rise in the number of such beneficiaries – from 1.2 per cent of the working-age group in 1980 to 4.8 per cent today – suggested other factors were at work. Indeed, it is now apparent that a major factor is mental illness. Psychological disorders, led by stress and depression, accounted for the entire increase in sickness benefits and a third of the increase in invalids benefits from 1996 to 2002. This has obvious implications for those charged with getting as many beneficiaries as possible back into the workforce. …

Happily, it has just been highlighted by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which, in a position statement, noted that “the evidence is compelling: for most individuals, good work improves general health and wellbeing and reduces psychological stress”. The college points to a recent British review, which found the beneficial effects of work outweighed any risks, with the benefits much greater than the harmful effects of long-term unemployment or prolonged sickness absence.

I’ve had a couple of brief periods of unemployment or under-employment. During those times I did volunteer work so I was still doing something, rather than nothing.

The Press focuses on the proposed Gaza flotilla inquiry:

The Israelis also fear what they see as the stitch-up that the Goldstone inquiry into the assault on Gaza a couple of years ago became. Although it was led by a respected South African former judge, Richard Goldstone, and made some efforts at even-handedness, that inquiry’s findings were quickly unpicked by critics as weighted unfairly towards the Palestinians and ultimately were easily dismissed. One of Palmer’s tasks, if he gets the job, will be to ensure that the inquiry is conducted with a scrupulous regard to impartiality. A properly conducted inquiry might help defuse some of the tension that the raid has generated. It might go some way to averting serious and lasting diplomatic damage that at the moment seems inevitable.

I may not agree with Sir Geoffrey on alcohol reform, but I think he would be a very good choice for this role. NZ is one of the few countries seen pretty much as an honest broker, and a proper inquiry would be very beneficial.

The Dom Post talks road safety:

Last year 10 people died on the roads over Queen’s Birthday Weekend. By late yesterday this year’s toll was one. That is good news, but it is still one too many.

Aroha Ormsby was killed when she was thrown from a car. Her death leaves three young children motherless, and friends and family confronting a personal tragedy that will never be revealed by a study of the bald statistics.

The death of Ms Ormsby – and of the hundreds of other New Zealanders killed each year – is why the police were right to trial a lower tolerance for those who break the speed limit. As long as there are New Zealanders dying on the roads there can be no slackening in the effort to make the roads safer.

The sceptics will point to the atrocious weather over the holiday break, and say that the low toll and lower speeds owe as much to people staying home or slowing down in the rain. That will have played a role but so too will the increased prospect of a ticket.

I certainly think the appalling weather was the major contributor. I also think it is unwise to jump to conclusions based on just two data points.

They should remember that the 100kmh limit is just that – a legal limit. It is not meant to be treated as an infinitely flexible guideline, something that applies unless the road is clear and it’s a sunny day, or unless there is a car that needs overtaking

I hope the editorial writer has never over taken a car by exceeding the limit. Never mind that to overtake a car travelling 90 km/hr means you need a straight road with no cars coming for at least 2,000 metres to do so without exceeding 100 km/hr.

The ODT looks at Labour’s mud and smears:

The Labour Party seems unable to get over the fact that John Key is wealthy, and it has frequently made attempts to imply or demonstrate that he gained his wealth deviously, and continues to do so.

None of these efforts has succeeded.

Helen Clark tried it when she claimed Mr Key personally profited from the 1993 privatisation of Tranz Rail, because he had been a former director of Bankers Trust, which won a contract to advise the then National government on the sale.

At the relevant time, however, Mr Key was nowhere near the sale; he was operating as a foreign exchange dealer.

Ms Clark may have been badly advised, but this did not slow her attempts to muddy the Prime Minister’s credibility, especially in the business and commercial world.

Clark and Labour’s view seem to be if you made your money in business, you must be corrupt – the only honest way to earn money is as a teacher, academic or unionist.

The latest attempt has been made by another senior party figure, the Dunedin North MP, Peter Hodgson, who has tried to show the Prime Minister knows what assets are held in his “blind trust”, implying that a conflict of interest has or can arise where government policy is concerned, to Mr Key’s financial advantage.

That is a serious claim to make where public figures are concerned who hold positions where they can influence policy.

Mr Hodgson’s “evidence” – it hardly justifies the description – has been successful to the extent that Mr Key, in responding, seems to have had some knowledge of one asset in particular.

It is no more than that, however: there is no shred of proof that his knowledge – if he had it – has been used to influence policy to his advantage.

Key’s crime is that three weeks after the blind trust was set up, he referred to owning a vineyard that was now in the blind trust.

That appears to be the end of the latest attempt to impugn the Prime Minister for his wealth, but it is unlikely to be the last.

The ODT has got to the heart of the real crime – that John Key is wealthy. You can just feel the envy and hatred blister as they snidely refer to his holiday home in Hawaii. How dare he have become wealthy.

Palmer to head Gaza inquiry?

June 6th, 2010 at 5:02 pm by David Farrar

Haaretz reports:

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has conveyed a proposal to Israel to set up an international commission of inquiry into the raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla a week ago.

The head of the committee would be former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, an expert on maritime law. Committee members would include representatives from the United States, Turkey and Israel.

Senior officials at the Foreign Ministry said Israel should consider the idea favorably.
I think this is a very good thing. It would reinforce NZ’s role as a honest broker who doesn’t take sides, and I think Sir Geoffrey would be scrupulously fair.
With so many allegations on both side, an independent inquiry which establishes what happened, and what was legal, would be very useful.

Editorials 2 June 2010

June 2nd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

All four editorials are on the Israeli action on the high seas. First the Herald:

Israel can hardly claim to be surprised by the universal international condemnation of its commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

There is a sad familiarity about the episode, which left at least nine activists dead.

Here, as in last year’s military offensive against Gaza, Israel has reacted with force completely disproportionate to the situation. …

It should be noted that Israel had suggested that the flotilla should offload its 10,000 tonnes of medical and building supplies at the Israeli port of Ashdod before it was handed over to the United Nations for delivery to Gaza.

That was a reasonable compromise. Indeed, if such moderation were pursued, the people of Gaza might come to recognise an alternative to an extremism that, according to Israel, has led Hamas to place a higher emphasis on the securing of arms than the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.

Hamas has no interest in peace or welfare of its people. Its goal is to destory Israel.

The Press:

Like any nation Israel is entitled to defend itself and protect its citizens.

It regards Gaza, controlled by the hardline Hamas organisation, as a major threat to its security. This view is understandable as there is a history of attacks on Israel from Gaza using rockets and other weaponry undoubtedly smuggled into the territory.

These attacks have prompted incursions into Gaza by Israeli soldiers. They are also the rationale for the three-year Israeli and Egyptian blockade which is designed to prevent weapons being smuggled into Gaza amidst genuine aid.

But as is often the case, sympathy for Israel’s security quickly evaporates when it resorts to excessive force. That was so this week when its soldiers stormed aid vessels in the Free Gaza flotilla.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

The Dom Post:

Israel believes its problems can be solved with bullets. It is wrong, and deserves the condemnation now raining down on its head for attacking a ship bringing aid to Gaza and killing at least 10 of those aboard.

There is no doubt that the actions of the “Gaza Freedom flotilla” were designed to be provocative and turn the world spotlight on the plight of the Palestinians suffering in Gaza as the result of Israeli-imposed sanctions.

However, it was not “an armada of hate and violence”, as Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, has dubbed it.

Israel must explain why it believed there was no other way of reacting to the flotilla than with an assault launched in international waters in the hours of darkness by a highly trained and – by all accounts – lethally efficient commando unit. It must say why other options to deal with what was a policing problem were not used.

The Dom Post is the most condemnatory of the four editorials.

The ODT:

There should be no doubt, now, about the outcome of the most serious waterborne challenge to Israel’s counterproductive blockade of the Gaza, despite the swamp of propaganda and “spin” from all sides.

People died, many were injured, Israel’s global reputation suffered another public relations defeat, and the people of Gaza continued to be pawns in a hostile diplomatic and strategic contest. …

The Government did make the point, however, that the “situation in Gaza is not sustainable”.

Indeed it is not.

It is deeply regrettable that Israel and Hamas refuse to recognise that reality.

A rational description of Israel’s high seas assault is that it was a severe over-reaction to a situation that could – and should – have been managed in a far more moderate, less assertive manner.

The commandos “slid from helicopters into a violent crowd, which attacked them with sticks.

It’s no wonder the troops opened fire in self-defence,” as one Israeli commentator put it, with more than a trace of irony.

By so doing, he added, “Israel walked straight into the trap that the flotilla organisers set . . .”

If this was really a planned effort to meet and contain the flotilla, it must be counted a tactical and military failure; an opportunity for Israel to earn praise ended in fiasco.

This is the reality. The Israeli Defence Forces should have been better prepared for violence and rather than helicopter troops on board would have been better to disable the vessels, user water cannons etc before boarding.

Israel wrong

June 1st, 2010 at 8:53 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Israeli commandos last night stormed six ships carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on an aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens after encountering unexpected resistance as the forces boarded the vessels.

The operation in international waters off the Gaza coast was a nightmare scenario for Israel and looked certain to further damage its international standing, strain already tense relations with Turkey and draw unwanted attention to Gaza’s plight.

If the boats were still in international waters, then Israel did not have the legal right to board them. It would be a different matter in my mind, if they had waited until they were in Israeli waters.

As for the regrettable deaths, I do believe that the Israeli soldiers only opened fire after they were attacked. However if you are boarding a ship in international waters, then you are likely to get attacked.

To my mind Israel has blundered badly in its actions. The only defence I can think of is if the boats were found to be bringing in weapons, in which case they could be considered an enemy ship.

The US-Israel Free Trade Agreement

April 22nd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An e-mail from the US Democratic Leadership Council highlights that 25 years ago Israel and the US signed a free trade agreement.

The change in aid and trade in that time has been massive

  1. Aid has reduced from $3.7b to $2.3b
  2. Services trade has gone from $1.0b to $7.5b
  3. Goods trade has gone from $2.4b to $44.2b

The US used to supply more in aid, than trade to Israel. Now their trade is more than 20 times greater than their aid.

Europe and the US should drop their trade barriers so that we have more trade, and less need for aid.

Editorials 23 March 2010

March 23rd, 2010 at 12:20 pm by David Farrar

The Herald supports a new approach on whaling:

There comes a moment in intractable disputes when someone or something turns existing thinking upside down to reveal an altogether new approach to resolution. Upending the chess board, as it is known in some political circles, can unlock minds and banish stalemate. It was evident in the end of apartheid in South Africa and the troubles in Northern Ireland and in the change in fortunes for American troops in Iraq once some Sunni insurgents were co-opted to the general cause of peace. Domestically, the cross-party accord on the anti-smacking legislation removed that emotional political pit from the 2008 general election campaign. Now, a new way of Saving the Whales has emerged. …

For New Zealand to be party to an agreement which allows the hunting of whales by Japan, Iceland and Norway after two generations of bumper-sticker policy to the contrary is, superficially, preposterous. Yet if the end, rather than the means, is of real importance in this cause, then surely the status quo is equally preposterous. Whaling for “scientific research” would be one of the most offensive euphemisms and dangerous policy constructs in international affairs. In truth, the ability of New Zealand and allied nations to force Japan and others to stop their scientific lie, given the economic and diplomatic realities, is as depleted as the whale pods they seek to protect.

The Government should pursue the possibility of a qualified moratorium, one that could allow those of a nationalist whaling sentiment to save face while committing, over time, to stopping the barbarism. Either way, whales will die. But whole species could be saved.

Labour continues to support purity over practicality.

Both The Press and the Dom Post say Sharples is wrong. First The Press:

At regular intervals the Maori Party co-leader, Pita Sharples, makes statements guaranteed to raise the hackles of many New Zealanders.

His latest offering was to describe the principles of “one vote for one person” and “democratic elections” as artificial political concoctions. …

But to criticise cornerstones of our democratic system of governance does a disservice to the pioneers of electoral reform in Britain and New Zealand, especially as Sharples was speaking as Maori Affairs Minister and not as his party’s co-leader. Over centuries the franchise was widened until the present position was reached in which, with very few exceptions, all those 18 years and older have one vote, or two under MMP.

And the Dom Post:

Democracy (from the Greek demokratia) is an amalgam of two Greek terms: demos meaning people and kratia meaning power. It denotes government by the people or, literally, people power. It is a simple but incredibly powerful concept that has improved the quality of life of virtually everyone who has had the good fortune to be born into a state in which one person’s vote counts the same as every other person’s.

It is also a concept which millions, including New Zealanders, have given their lives to defend, and a concept that has to be defended against muddled thinking as well as evil doing.

Into that first category must be put Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples’ recent musings on the nature of democracy. According to Dr Sharples, the essence of democracy is not one person one vote, which he describes as an “artificial political concoction” but “goals towards equity … and inclusiveness”. …

Democracy is not simply one of many alternatives on a menu from which nations can choose with impunity. It is the only form of government that gives the meanest citizen the same power at the ballot box as the rich, the only system that has ever protected individual rights, the only system that ensures the peaceful transfer of power and the only system in which weak minorities have consistently been able to press their causes.

Hear hear.

And the ODT on the US and Israel:

While all these countries find much in common with Israel, and much to admire about it, its intransigence in the field of international relations is evidently a source of frustration and anxiety.

As much as Mr Obama is soft-pedalling in public over the recent spat, in private there is little doubt the Administration is furious.

The US desperately needs alliances, and sympathy, in the Middle East beyond its traditional bonds with Israel if it is to maintain pressure against Iran’s acquisition of the bomb.

One sure way it sees of achieving this is through making progress in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, an objective that, from time to time, seems to slip down Mr Netanyahu’s, and Israel’s, agenda.

Editorials 18 March 2010

March 18th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald focuses on the departure of Vanda Vitali:

The trust board was also keen to see the museum throw off austerity and become part of an international trend typified by Te Papa. Part of this was a restructuring that left 46 personnel, many of them senior staff, without jobs.

Amid accusations that this meant core museum displays were being downgraded, the board backed Dr Vitali to the hilt for most of her tenure. Its support began to waver late last year, however, after a series of public relations disasters.

It is questionable who should bear the responsibility for these. Did the board, having appointed Dr Vitali and provided a mandate, fail to give sufficient direction and guidance?

Did it not recognise sufficiently that, as a Canadian, she was operating in an unfamiliar cultural context? Or did the director, like many set on instituting change, not see finesse and heedfulness as part of her job description? …

It must not become fusty and tradition-bound. Dr Vitali’s achievement can be measured by comments lamenting her resignation.

One of the more notable came from Naida Glavish, of the Ngati Whatua Runanga, who said she had brought the museum “back to life”. An initial reservation about Dr Vitali was her sensitivity to the Maori and Pacific exhibitions.

Museums are always seeking a balance. In Auckland’s case, that involves using flair and imagination to attract local people, while also catering for overseas tourists’ major interest, the Polynesian treasures.

Dr Vitali wrought major change in a short time. With a little finesse, the correct balance can be struck.

Is Te Papa still looking for a CEO? 🙂

The Dominion Post is unhappy with Israel:

The timing of Israel’s announcement of a new 1600-house Jewish development in East Jerusalem was the equivalent of a one-fingered salute to the United States and to the peace process.

It demonstrates a contempt for the Obama Administration so withering that it diminishes the American ability to broker any deal. The administration had last year demanded a freeze on Jewish settlements, but eventually got only a partial, temporary halt – except in Jerusalem.

Why should the Palestinians pay any heed to what Washington wants, when the Israelis clearly don’t? It will also raise questions even among those sympathetic to Israel whether its current leadership has any intention of reaching a negotiated settlement.

I am a friend and supporter of Israel, but on this issue I agree they are wrong. They really should stop building new settlements. It makes the job of achieving a peace agreement a lot lot harder, for little gain.

The Press focuses on bad driving:

It is the common complaint of many New Zealand motorists. Truck drivers hog the road and, being oblivious to other road users, are responsible for accidents and near misses, both in urban areas and on the open road.

Those who subscribe to this jaundiced view should be taking a hard look at the video footage on The Press’s website. This footage, which was taken from cameras mounted in Canterbury Waste Services (CWS) trucks and which has created great public interest, has graphic images of other road users behaving recklessly and illegally.

It includes video images of one car overtaking a truck and forcing oncoming traffic to take evasive action. Other footage shows motorists not stopping at red lights or compulsory stop signs, failing to adhere to the give-way rule at other intersections, adopting some appalling driving techniques at roundabouts, and skidding due to a failure to drive to the conditions.

Luckily Wellington drivers are better than that 🙂

The ODT looks at child abuse in the Catholic Church:

It is hard to believe the senior ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, increasingly under siege in Fortress Vatican, have any real appreciation of the extent of the calamity facing them.

For if they did, surely they, and Pope Benedict XVI, would be cutting a radically different course from that now being offered to a confused, disappointed and sometimes angry congregation.

Prominent among the strategies it has adopted in the face of what is beginning to seem like a perfect storm of recent revelations – of sexual abuse cases and “cover-ups” in Brazil, the United States, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Germany and, periodically, in this country and Australia – has been the time-honoured tactic of attacking the messenger. …

It just reminds me of the South Park episode where a priest calls on the gathered Cardinals to stop priests having sex with little boys, and the response back is that as they can’t have sex with women, if they stop having sex with little boys, then they’ll get to have no sex at all!

Abstinence is not natural in my opinion!

Editorials 1 March 2010

March 1st, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial does not appear to be online.

The Press looks at the furore over the forged passports by Mossad:

British police officers have arrived in Israel in an attempt to find out who or what stole the identities of six British-Israeli nationals and used them in the assassination in Dubai last month of a leader of the Palestinian Hamas organisation. The chances that the police will find anything worthwhile is exceedingly remote. If the murder was carried out by the Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad, as Dubai alleges and many others suspect, the Israeli Government will see to it that the truth never emerges. If it was perpetrated by some other actor – and the possibility that the killing was carried out by Arab agents from Hamas or elsewhere as part of some internecine feud has not been entirely ruled out – there is no chance that any plodding Western investigation is going to get to the bottom of it.

Maybe iPredict should do a market on who was it. My money will be on Mossad!

The victim was Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, co-founder of the military wing of Hamas, the radical Islamic organisation that controls the Gaza Strip. What Mabhouh was doing in Dubai without security protection is not known. As someone well aware that he was a target for assassination from a variety of quarters, Mabhouh seldom ventured far from Damascus where he was heavily protected. It appears likely he was involved in arranging a further illicit shipment of weapons from Iran for Hamas’s continuing attacks on Israel and for some reason felt secure travelling without guards. If this is the case, it is likely that Israeli intelligence seized the chance to carry out a strike that had probably been planned for some time.

Hamas is at war with Israel. Their policy is to destroy Israel. It is hard to argue that the co-founder of the military wing is not a legitimate military target.

The Dom Post welcomes a review of employment law:

Four years ago, a Tauranga company concerned about the theft of company property installed motion-sensitive cameras on its premises.

The cameras filmed a worker placing a cardboard box containing cakes of soap under a bench. Another worker, who subsequently admitted stealing company property, was filmed taking a box from under the bench and putting it in his car. The company believed it was a clear case of theft. It asked the worker who had placed the box under the bench to explain his actions. He refused. The company sacked him.

End of story? No. The worker took his case to the Employment Relations Authority. The authority found in favour of the employer. The worker appealed to the Employment Court. It took a different view.

It found the worker had been unjustifiably dismissed because his employer had not followed proper procedures. It had given him only selected portions of the surveillance tape, it had not put in writing the misdeeds of which he was accused, and it had wrongly concluded that the worker’s representative was stalling when he put off meetings because of other commitments. The company was ordered to pay the employee $12,000 for lost wages and $7000 for distress.

A good example of the case for change.

The ODT looks at home insulation:

Large-scale taxpayer subsiding of home insulation would seem an unlikely policy for a right-of-centre political party.

But that is what pragmatic National did and, by and large, Prime Minister John Key and his colleagues will be pleased with the outcome.

As are the Greens!

McCarten on Israel

February 28th, 2010 at 11:27 am by David Farrar

Matt McCarten writes:

It seems we can’t get over the myth we’ve created of the little plucky nation of Israel defending itself against the Islamic hordes intent on destroying them.

The fact is Israel has the fourth largest military machine in the world and is the only nuclear power in the region.

Is Israel a little nation? Well it is around 20,000 square kilometres in size. That’s a bit smaller than Vermont – one of the smallest states in the US.

And Israel’s four neighbours have a land area of 1,290,000 square kilometres. That is around 60 to 65 times the size.

Are there Islamic hordes intent on destroying them? Yes. Not all Islamic countries and definitely not all Islamic people, but a fair few of each. It is probably the only cpuntry on Earth that

Does Israel have the 4th largest military machine in the world? No. For number of active personnel they are ranked 34th. And even if you include reserves they are still only the 20th largest.

They are the only nuclear power, but sadly not for long I suspect.


January 30th, 2010 at 12:59 pm by David Farrar

AP report:

Hamas has accused Israeli agents of assassinating a veteran operative of the Palestinian militant group, saying he was electrocuted last week in a Dubai hotel room.

While it is quite possible Israel did take direct action, I do wonder why would you do it via electrocution?

Talal Nassar, an official in Hamas’ media office in Damascus, said al-Mabhouh had been “poisoned and electrocuted in his hotel room in Dubai.” He did not elaborate.

Poisoned and electrocuted? This is starting to sound like someone has real too many comics.

Al-Mabhouh’s brother, Hussein, 49, who lives in the Jebaliya refugee camp in Gaza, said his brother “died by electric shock and suffocation with a piece of cloth.”

So they electrocuted him, poisoned him and suffocated him? Would it not be easier to just have shot him!

Minto helps Israeli win

January 7th, 2010 at 9:13 am by David Farrar

Its nice of John Minto to organise protests that helps Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer win her matches. She is of course used to the protests, so it ends up putting of fher opponents.

It’s a win-win. The longer Peer keeps winning, the longer the protesters get to protest. So hopefully Peer will go through to the final!

The Journey Home

December 3rd, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Got to Tel Aviv at 11 pm Saturday night and crashed briefly at a place provided by Yani. Then had to taxi to airport at 3 am. The taxi did not turn up though, so Ebba and I ended up dragging out suitcases down the road onto the main street, where we managed to hail one.

At the airport, went through much much tougher security than I have seen anywhere else in the world. In one sense it was very reassuring that they take security so seriously, meaning you have a safe flight. On the other hand it meant I only hit the lounge 15 minutes before I had to go to the gate. The security process was:

  1. A 5 – 10 minute interrogation by a young female airport official while waiting in the queue for first x-ray. She asked me detailed questions about why I went to Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait, Dubai and Iran. When I said I had a friend working in Kuwait, she asked why was she working there and she didn’t even smile at my response it was because she earns three times what she would in NZ. Also asked me several times if anyone had given me anything to carry for them, as it could be a bomb.
  2. Then went through first x-rays of all luggage.
  3. Then had a total search of my suitcase (presumably based on my suspicious itinerary to date) which took ten minutes
  4. Then passport control. More questions
  5. Then a x-ray of my hand luggage
  6. Then a search with a wand of not just me, and the hand luggage, but also my shoes, my camera, my books etc.

While all the security was a hassle, it did mean at least I could be confident we would have an incident free flight. And Israel, of all countries, does need to be vigilant. If interested, see Wikipedia on El Al security.

Was sad to leave Israel, as it was such a fascinating place. There is a wonderful blend of racial backgrounds. Another country I am definitely going to return to. Very grateful to Davidi and Young Likud for their first class hosting, and to my European friends who made the trip so fun.

Flew to London, which took almost six hours. My ticket conditions meant I had to continue around the world, so could not take the much quicker eastern route back.

I had a standby upgrade request for the 11 hour leg from Heathrow to LA, but the flight was full. Annoying that one had to go through security scan, even in transit. The lounge there was quite nice, and got some work done.

Then landed at LA after 11 hour flight. They no longer allow you to access the Koru Club, if you are Star Alliance Gold, due to security restrictions. Very peeved as really wanted a shower. Then a 13 hour flight to Auckland.

Did get an upgrade to Premium Economy, which was my first time trying that section out. Biggest boon for me was a power supply as I worked on laptop entire flight catching up with emails, writing blog posts (including most of this one) etc.

Having the seats recline back more is useful, but also proved a hassle as the person in front put their seat so far back I could not use my laptop in front of me. But by chance luck was with me as I was in a window seat (despite a standing request for aisle seats). In premium economy they had a foot wide ledge (with storage space beneath them) next to the window. Not only is it great for storing papers and books (and even the laptop so I did not have to get it from overhead after takeoff, but it allowed me to use the area as a work station by balancing the laptop on my arm rest and a cushion propped up on my shoes on the ledge – a real no 8 solution 🙂

So my advice for travellers if to go for the window seat if in premium economy (or at least the upstairs section).

Got into Auckland at 7 am Tuesday and stayed overnight.


Went to the famous switching on of the Franklin Road Xmas lights. 99% of the houses on the 1 km long road put up extensive lights and decorations. It’s a wonderful community initiative and the entire road was a party zone. They were even giving away free food.

I attended one of the parties, which was great fun. Damien Christie spent the night introducing me as David Farrier from TV3!

Woke up with a hangover around 10.30 am and almost missed my flight to Wellington.  I blame xxxxxxx.

Is good to be home, but have had wonderful month in a region I have long wanted to visit. And I must be one of a very few people who have done Iran and Israel consecutively in the same trip!

The Golan Heights

December 2nd, 2009 at 5:42 pm by David Farrar


On the sabbath we had brunch in the Hula Valley in the Golan Heights. We had “local” food pretty much every day, and I have to say it was damn nice. It’s a shame to eat your normal diet, when you are in other countries, but often you end up doing so if staying in hotels. Having a local guide really helps.


That sign is not just for show. The Syrians left a huge number of mines behind, and Israel decided it was better to just fence off some areas than try and detect them all (hazardous to the detectors)


Sweden doubles its defence force capability 🙂


One mine field has these cacti in them. I mentioned to the group that I would plant a mine at the bottom of the cactus so that if the mine doesn’t get you, then you’ll still be hit by hundreds of pieces of cacti. One of the others said they hoped never to have to go to war against NZ with that mentality!


A fairly major strategic battle happened on this hill. 20 Israelis died taking the hill against a mortar and very well defended trenches. They Syrian soldiers were very young and inexperienced and eventually fled a superior position. Our host mentioned that the Syrians were very much innocent victims in a conflict not of their choosing.


One of the trenches on the hill


Nearby was Fort Nimrod. Now this has nothing to do with any modern conflict but was established as a Muslim fort in 1300 AD or so. There are extensive ruins to look at, if you make the drive up to it.


More of the fort.


Down to the secret tunnel


Used the zoom lens to snap this little creature on a ledge below the fort. It looks like the little critter is about to jump!


We then went to Mount Bental. On the path at the top, they have entries from a competition to design children’s toys out of former military weapon. I asked if there was also a competition to design weapons out of children’s toys 🙂


And another


At the top they have a former bunker a a very nice café. The Hebrew word for in the clouds is Annan and for coffee is Kofi, so the café is called Kofi Annan, a nice play on the former UN Secretary-General.


Again this is regarded as a very strategic hill. You can actually see a Syrian city, and Lebanon is not far away. Contrary to what might assume, there is no border fence.

At one stage we we driving next to the Jordan. In fact we got so close my cellphone told me I was now receiving Vodafone Jordan.


Going down into the bunker.


This is at Qatsrin, and is the remains of a very early Jewish synagogue from 2,000 years ago.


At Janhnun we saw a great audio-visual show on the history of the Golan Heights, beamed onto a replacia model of them. Then afterwards we had a beer tasting of local beers. Yum.


A sunset over the Sea of Galilee. Beautiful.


Finally we visited Hamat-Gader where we saw some animals, had dinner, and dipped into the local thermal pools. Those leaving later on Sunday stayed the night at the Kefar-Ha Nassi Kibbutz.

We had an interesting debate about whether that fence was high enough to stop a determined crocodile.

We also saw a nine metre python.


A photo of the pool area. The main pool was hot enough, but the inside pool was an uncomfortable 43 degrees – maximum time recommended 10 minutes.

The North of Israel

December 1st, 2009 at 10:43 am by David Farrar

On Friday we went up north. First stop was the Caesarea National Park, which has the ruins of the city set up by King Herod.


The park has lots of ruins, and also a good museum explaining the history of the area.


A group shot by the harbour. It was constructed to be a major port – around 100,000 square metres in size. The constructed a reef by dropping bales of volcanic ash into the sea, which turns them into solid concrete.


We then went to the Aaronsohn House. They were a family who operated as a spy network in WWI for the British against the Turks.

27 year old Sarah Aaronsohn was captured and killed herself after four days of torture, so she would not reveal her colleagues.


Despite being way north of Jerusalem, we ran into a Cabinet Minister. She is with the Labor Party, and I think has the commerce facility. Despite Davidi being with Likud, he is very good friends with the Minister – they were hugging each other when they ran into each other. Israel is a very small place, like NZ.


We then went to the old city of Tsefat (aka Zefat and Safed). On the way we visited a couple of war memorials. At most tourist sites they have a machine which will play an audio recording in Hebrew or English. They were really good to listen to – giving you a five minute history of what happened there.

Tsefat is a very old city, and many Orthodox Jews live there. Almost every second building is a synagogue. It is one of four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias. We saw the (outside of the) former home of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who left in 1948.

Likud and Zionism

November 30th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The rest of Thursday was learning about some of the history of Zionism and Likud specifically.  The first stop was the Menachem Begin Centre. Begin, who signed the peace treaty with Egypt, was effectively the third leader of the revisionist zionism movement. The modern founder of zionism was Theodor Herzl, and then Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky led the revisionist faction, which Begin then led.

Begin died in 1992, and usually tops the polls of most admired former prime ministers. However for most of his career he was a terrorist/freedom fighter (depending on point of view) and was very much a political outcast until the 1970s.

The centre in his name, obviously is very favourable to him. They have a very nice set of displays, and audio-visual effects. The tour guide, who works for the centre, was a young Canadian girl who emigrated to Israel just two years ago, leaving her family behind.

Begin was a leader within the Irgun, and there is no doubt by today’s standards some of what they did would be called terrorism – especially the murder of the Sergeants. The British response was not much better.

There was also the infamous bombing of the King David Hotel, and to this day, there are bitter different points of views between the UK and Israel on it.

Not once in my time in Israel did I hear any demonisation of the Palestinian Authority. The two countries that were always criticised were in fact Britain (for former acts) and Iran (for current support of Hamas, Hizbollah etc). Britain was as much the enemy in the mid 1940s, as was the Arab states.

After the war of independence, tensions between the Ben-Gurion Government and Begin’s Irgun were massive, and in fact led to some bloodshed. Begin’s decision not to retaliate is said by his supporters to have prevented a civil war. Ben-Gurion seemed to despise Begin and would not even mention his name for several decades.

In 1977 Begin broke the 30 year monopoly of the Labour Party on power and became Prime Minister. His entire career had been as a hard liner who was against turning over any of the occupied territories to its neighbours. Yet he signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, which set the precedent of land for peace, handing over the entire Sinai peninsula. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Anwar Sadat and Shimon Peres. His peace treaty was bitterly opposed my many in his own party.


The signatures on the final page of the peace treaty.

He also bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and in 1986 approved the invasion fo Lebanon, which eventually led to him retiring in 1983. He was a recluse until his death in 1992. One of the reasons for his popularity is he was seen as a simple man of the people – and refused to be buried on Mount Herzl, but instead on the Mount of Olives next to two young Irgun fighters who killed themselves in jail to avoid execution by the British.


A view of old Jerusalem from the Begin Centre.

After the centre, we went to the West Bank. It was fascinating to see first hand parts of the occupied territories. Two things struck me. The first is how big the West Bank is, and how much room there. It is not some crowded area like Gaza. The second is how close many Palestinian and Israeli cities and settlements are to each other. Don’t think there is some nice straight line you can draw between the two.

Much of the West Bank will form a future Palestinian state. But it is not as simple as just going back to the 1967 boundaries. Even the Palestinians say they are not expecting Israel to abandon major cities in the area. What is likely to happen is that any area Israel keeps, might be replaced with some territory elsewhere from sovereign Israel. This can be made into a win-win but the devil is in the details.


A typical shot of the West Bank.


This is at the top of a strategically important hill in the 1967 war. The military are very reluctant to give up this area, as they say they could not prevent an invasion from reaching major cities without it. That is of course their point of view.


Below is a Palestinian town.


A photo of the group, in the West Bank. Regardless of the politics of the area, it was a fascinating place to view.

Then we headed to Tel Aviv where we visited the Jabotinsky Institute. This was the only part I did not enjoy much. It mainly consisted of a lecture on Jabotinsky, and the presentation was too zealous – mainly about how all the other Zionists turned out wrong and Jabotinsky was right. Was interesting to learn about him (I had never heard of him before), but what should have taken one hour took two and a half.

We then checked into out hotel in Tel Aviv. Now the hotels generally in Israel had been three star ones to keep costs down. The total cost for the six days was only 500 Euros, and that included hotels, food, travel, driver, and entry tickets.

Now the hotel in Jerusalem was very basic (probably a 2 to 2.5 star in reality) but okay to sleep in. But the hotel in Tel Aviv was a 0 star. You opened the door and immediately saw a cockroach. Not in just one room, and the first three rooms we opened. We gave up after that. Also I noticed the beds had just sheets on them, no sleeping covers. We eventually worked out based on the neighbourhood that this is one of those hotels that you normally rent by the hour.

We staged a walkout and found a much nicer one down the road. The owner actually got offended we were leaving. She was lucky we did not report it to the health authorities for demolition. Yuck. On the plus side it allowed us to hassle our host greatly about how he tried to book us into a prostitute hotel.

Then Thursday night was night clubbing until around 2 am in Tel Aviv. It has a active party scene. I had to cut out early to write my NBR column 🙁

What I gained most from the day is understanding that the issues around Israel did not start in 1948 or 1967. The zionist movement grew out of the late 1800s, as a response to the discrimination and worse of the Jewish populations in almost every country on Earth. People will disagree on whether or not the response was the correct one, but it is simplistic to see it as merely to provide a homeland after the events of the Holocaust – the move for a homeland had been steadily underway for some decades. Most of the planning happened when there was no Palestine – when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Today Israel is an established fact, and there is little doubt there will be a Palestinian state at some stage. But under what conditions, and what boundaries is a long way from being resolved.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

November 30th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Thursday morning we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church is a sacred site for many Christians, who believe is the site of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Apart from the spiritual aspects, it is a magnificent ancient building and is a must see.


This is the entrance to the Church, which was constructed around 300 AD.


This is the Stone of Annointing, claimed to be the spot where Jesus was prepared for burial.


One of the many artworks on the walls.


Upstairs is the purported site of the crucifixion, You go up a narrow winding rock staircase to get to what is called Golgotha. You can see the rock the cross was placed in, and down below is also the rock that sealed his tomb.

Whether or not you are a believer, the church is a sacred place, and was a real highlight for me.

The Knesset

November 30th, 2009 at 2:20 am by David Farrar

Catching up on the last few days, as have had no time to blog.

Wednesday afternoon we visited the Knesset, and were very fortunate to not just have a private tour, but also hosted by the Knesset Chairman, Speaker Reuven Rivlin. We met in his private offices until he had was suddenly summoned to a meeting with the Prime Minister, to be told the PM was recommending a 10 month freeze on settlements.


The Speaker with the Swedish contingent, and Davidi (our host from Young Likud).

Rivlin was the Likud candidate for President in 2007, and has a reasonable chance of becoming President at the next election. His family have resided in Jerusalem since around 1800.

Just as Israelis are very proud of their Supreme Court, they are also proud that they have a universal democracy. There are no electorate seats in Israel – it is proportional representation for every party that gets over 2%. The threshold used to be 1%, then 1.5% and now is 2%. Some advocate it should keep going higher to prevent the small extremist parties. There are 18 parties in the 120 member Knesset, but they stood under 12 lists only.

Of the 120 Knesset members, 13 are Arabs. Some of them have been elected Deputy Speaker, and one has served as Acting President.

We also went and observed the Knesset in session. It is quite different to the NZ Parliament. The MK speakign does so from a platform next to the Speaker. The MKs themselves sit in four horseshoes (in the shape of the symbol on their coat of arms – its formal name escapes me).

Their debates are not just confined to passing laws (as NZ is except for question time and general debate). They debate many varied issues every day. However where it is like NZ, is that few attend at any one time.

The visitors gallery is behind soundproof glass. We were told that no matter what we said, no one would hear it. I was tempted to jump up and start yelling out Allah Ackbar to test that assertion, but luckily my common sense won out that this would be a very bad thing to do 🙂

The artwork in the Knesset is stunning – some of them took a decade to complete. It is a building well worth a tour.

As I mentioned in my NBR column, I was surprised at the degree of pragmatism I encountered amongst some of the politicians. You realise after a while that so called bottom lines are initial negotiating positions. We saw that the day we were there with the freeze on settlements (which is a good thing).

After the Knesset we had a meeting with Yigal Palmor, who has one of the more difficult jobs in Israel – he is the Spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Again fascinating discussions about prospects for peace agreements, and it was during that discussion the idea of both Israel and a future Palestine being part of NATO (to guarantee secure borders) was discussed.

I asked if the settlement freeze will make his job easier, as it will be popular internationally and he (correctly) predicted that the Palestinians would reject it as inadequate. He stressed the US reaction is very important. Paraphrasing, if the US supports Israel on something, then most of the rest of the world will offer mild or muted criticism only. But if the US itself is critical (even mildly), then Israel will face harsh denunciations around the world.

Also talked Iran with him, and asked outright if he thinks Iran would be more willing to drop its assumed nuclear weapons programme, if Israel disposed of its nuclear weapons. I was somewhat amused that he didn’t even try and deny Israel had nuclear weapons – he just said that he thinks Iran would want them regardless due to Pakistan and India.

We also have two impromptu meetings in the streets. One was with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He is a very close friend of Davidi, the Young Likud Chair, despite the fact he is also the Young Labour Chair.

We also ran into Davidi’s former army commander. He is now a General, and his job is head of counter-terrorism for the Armed Forces. Only had a brief chat to him, but we had dinner the next night with a former Deputy Chief of General Staff, who was in charge of the Northern Command.

A very interesting day all up.

History and Government of Israel

November 27th, 2009 at 6:13 pm by David Farrar

Our first day in Israel was sightseeing around old Jerusalem. On our second day, we did a mixture of history and current affairs, thanks to our hosts, Young Likud.

First up we went to The Greats of the Nation on Mount Herzl. Theodor Herzl was the founder of modern Zionism, and seen as the seer of the State of Israel even though he died in 1904.

This is the memorial to Herzl, whose remains were moved to Israel in 1949.


On the tomb on Yitzmak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister who struck peace with with the PLO through the Oslo Accords, and was assassinated in 1995.


And Golda Meir, one of the first elected female leaders in the world, when she became PM in 1969.

We then went Yad Vashem, which is the Holocaust Memorial.


This is a photo of a photo taken from a liberated concentration camp. At this stage we were told no photos are allowed, which is a pity as so many of the scenes there need to be shown as widely as possible.

The museum is very moving, and very detailed. There is a huge amount of documentation, plus audio and visual displays. Allow two hours at least. I thought I knew a lot about the Holocaust, but I learnt a lot more at the museum.

At the very end you can search their database of holocaust victims. I spent a while searching for various relatives, which made it very real.

The museum covers well not just the Holocaust, but the conditions that led to it, and also the many people who risked their lives to help the victims.


A Holocaust monument in the exterior of the museum.


Female soldiers are a very common sight in Israel as military service is compulsory for both genders.


This is a picture of one of the Supreme Court courtrooms. The Israeli Supreme Court is much hallowed in Israel, as the vision was to found a country based on the rule of law.

The Supreme Court is unusual, in that it is not just an appellate court. It does hear appeals from District Courts (akin to our High Courts) but also is the High Court of Justice and has original jurisdiction on some matters such as petitions against the state. So rather than be a leisurely few cases a year supreme court, it hears over 5,000 cases a year.

The reasons for this is the British, it seems. When the British ruled the area, they did not want the lower courts hearing petitions against their actions, so they

It can and does strike down laws that conflict with the Basic Law. Rather controversially it just a few days ago declared a law allowing for private prisons (I think owned not just managed but am not sure) to breach human rights for prisoners. It tends to be seen as an activist or liberal court, but in a country with no constitution and no existence until 1948, they have been forced to create their own law, relying on overseas precedents where possible.

The Court has 15 members (was 12 until recently) and normally sits in benches of three. More important cases can have bigger benches, and one case had 11 Judges sit on it. There must be an odd number.

We also went to the Knesset, which I will blog about in a new post.

The Supreme Court Building is quite magnificent – a mixture of old and new. Definitely worth a tour.


November 26th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

On Tuesday I flew from Tehran to Tel Aviv via Turkey. Iran will not let you enter if you have been to Israel previously, so I guessed they would not be that keen on me heading there straight afterwards, so I had been very careful  not to mention the Israel part of my trip publicly.

I got a bit nervous at the airport though when I realised that as I was on the same airline from Tehran to Istanbul and Istanbul to Tel Aviv, they could see the next leg, as they asked me if I wanted to check my bags all the way through. I very quietly said yes.

The flight to Istanbul was a nightmare as the airport fogged in, and we circled for an hour then diverted to Ankara, refueled and then went back to Istanbul. A two hour flight took almost six hours, and I missed my connecting flight. Got transferred onto a later one okay though.

Just as Iran is not that keen on visitors who have been to Israel, Israel is not that keen on people who have just flown in from Iran. At the gate in Istanbul, I was taken aside and questioned for around 10 minutes about why I had been in Iran, how long would I be in Israel etc.

Eventually got onto flight. When we went through passport control at Tel Aviv, I thought it would be even worse, but the officer accepted my story straight away, and took only a couple of minutes.

Met up with the rest of the group. We have five Swedes, two Finns two Austrians, a Swiss and one Kiwi.

Around 5 pm we went to the Shrine of the Book. This museum houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex. Most people will have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but now the Codex, which is basically the oldest existing bible – around 3,000 years old. It isn’t a bible per se – more the authoritative source for the bible. So you get some idea of its historical value.


This is a photo of a model of old Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book. The model is huge – only a 50:1 ratio.


Then went to the Mount of Olives and saw some of the 150,000 graves there, plus the superb view of old Jerusalem.

At 8 pm we hit Old Jerusalem. I can’t describe how wonderful the city is – such a sense of history. We visited the Western (or Wailing) Wall, and also had tours through the Generations Centre and best of all though the tunnels underneath the wall.


This is the base of the Western Wall. All day and night many Jews go there to pray.

The original temple here was the Temple of Solomon. After that was destroyed in 586 BC, a second temple was constructed by Herod in around 19 BC. The wall is part of the remains of that temple. Judaism believes a third temple will be constructed there when the Messiah comes.

The original temple was on the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism as it is taught as the place where God created Adam. It is also sacred to Islam as the site where Muhammed ascended to heaven.


The tunnels under the Western Wall are incredible. So much history down there. Not one for claustrophobics though. Also a bad place to be if there is an earthquake!


Also did a walk through the alleyways and bazaars of East Jerusalem. This is basically Palestinian/Arab area, and is likely to be officially part of a future Palestine state. While there has been violence in the past, things were generally very relaxed in this area, with people from all religions and races walking about.

Not PC on Israel

October 1st, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Not PC has a good blog on the Israeli PM’s speech to the UN.

Netanyahu challenged the delegates to see the Iranian leadership for what it is. He challenged them too over Gaza.

For years, Arab and Middle-Eastern countries have berated Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, but refused entry for Palestinian refugees to their own countries. They prefer to hate Israel rather than help their neighbours – hatred which the UN has supported. And for years, the United Nations has stood by in silence while aggressor after aggressor has attacked Israel, and stood up in condemnation only when Israel has fought back to defend its very life.

The United Nations stood by with its eyes closed while Iran armed Hezbollah guerrillas with rockets, which they poured into Israel from the North over the heads of mute UN observers.

It stood in silence for years as Palestinians smuggled Iranian-supplied rockets into Gaza, and said nothing as Palestinian guerrillas (backed by their government) fired the rockets into Israel from bases located in schools, in hospitals, in mosques, and from the middle of densely packed housing.

And some extracts from the speech itself:

Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants.  Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee.  There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people.  The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments.

Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews.   Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself.  Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered.  Is this too a lie?

I get very nervous when the someone who denies the Holocaust occured, pledges to wipe out Israel and is developing nuclear weapons.

One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration.  Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own.  My wife’s grandparents, her father’s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis.  Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium.  To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you.  You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

Thank God, the NZ delegation walked out.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame?  Have you no decency?  A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state. What a disgrace!  What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations!

Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews.  You’re wrong.  History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.


In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza.  It dismantled 21 settlements and uprooted over 8,000 Israelis.  We didn’t get peace.  Instead we got an Iranian backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv.   Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare.

You see, the Hamas rocket attacks not only continued, they increased tenfold. Again, the UN was silent. Finally, after eight years of this unremitting assault, Israel was finally forced to respond.

And the worst thing about what happened, is it destroyed the incentive for Israel to give up more land. I support Israel giving up land for peace. But Israel gave up land and in return got more rocket attacks, from closer to their major population centres! Is it any wonder peace is so hard, when doing the right thing results in more violence, not less.

But how should we have responded?  Well, there is only one example in history of thousands of rockets being fired on a country’s civilian population.  It happened when the Nazis rocketed British cities during World War II.

During that war, the allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties.   Israel chose to respond differently.  Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians – Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.

That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferreting explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.  We dropped countless flyers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave.

Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy’s civilian population from harm’s way.   Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel.

I’m not saying Israel was blameless with its response, but he is correct that they have gone to greater lengths than any other country to minimise civilian deaths. They are inevitable when you respond, but not responding isn’t much of an option.

By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals.  What a perversion of truth!  What a perversion of justice!

Oh I have no doubt today, that today’s UN Human Rights Council would condemn both Roosevelt and Churchill.

Israel vs Sweden

August 31st, 2009 at 12:32 pm by David Farrar

The Economist reports:

BARELY two months into its six-month presidency of the European Union, Sweden’s government is entangled in a scrap with Israel. Because it pitches Swedes’ cherished free-speech principles against Middle Eastern sensibilities, it is loaded with a wearying sense of déjà vu—and a potential to escalate.

It started on August 17th when Aftonbladet, a Swedish tabloid, published an incendiary article claiming that Israeli soldiers had harvested the organs of some Palestinians whom they had shot. Within hours, Israel’s deputy foreign minister had denounced the article for racism and demanded that it be condemned by the Swedish government. …

Sweden’s ambassador in Tel Aviv obligingly called the article shocking. But she was countermanded by the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt. Israel, he wrote in his blog, wanted the Swedish government to distance itself from the article or take steps to prevent a replication, but that was not how the country worked. This robust defence of freedom of expression was endorsed by the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Matters quickly deteriorated. An internet campaign called for a boycott of Swedish companies, including IKEA and Volvo. A planned official visit by Mr Bildt to Israel may be under threat. Lawsuits have begun. And Sweden stands accused by prominent Israelis, including the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of blood libel and anti-Semitism.

This has uncomfortable echoes of Denmark’s cartoon wars, started when a Danish newspaper published drawings of the prophet Muhammad in late 2005.

The article in the Swedish tabloid newspaper was racist and gross anti-semitism. It was designed to give credibility to the lies spread in many Middle East countries about Jews and organ harvesting.

The newspaper incidentally is owned by Swedish Trade Union Confederation and has a history of anti-semitic articles.

Now it is debatable about whether the Swedish Government should or should not condemn the article, but there is absolutely no way the Government should be trying to prevent the article, or be held responsible for the actions of the newspaper.

So the campaign against Sweden, and especially Swedish companies, is misguided and wrong. Do not hold a country responsible for the actions of one newspaper.

There are some parallels to the Danish cartoon controversy. The aspect in common is the misguided desire to punish an entire country for the editorial decisions of one newspaper.

But I have not seen any burning down of Swedish embassies or incitements to violence against Sweden.  A boycott campaign is not the same as death threats against journalists.

It looks like Netanyahu

February 20th, 2009 at 10:21 am by David Farrar

Sadly it looks like things will get worse in the Middle East:

The anti-Arab politician who emerged as a kingmaker after Israel’s election endorsed Benjamin Netanyahu, virtually ensuring he will once again become prime minister.

The big question is whether the hawkish Netanyahu will be able to build the broad coalition he will likely need to stay in power and avoid clashing with the Obama administration and much of the world.

With his top rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, signalling on Thursday that she would enter the opposition, Netanyahu’s prospects do not look good.

He will probably have little choice but to forge a coalition with nationalist and religious parties opposed to peacemaking with the Palestinians and Israel’s other Arab neighbours.

Sad, but possibly inevitable.