Archive | October 12th, 2012

Report: Arabs prefer Science studies


CBS report says 46% of Arab students majored Biology in 2011; only 30% in Jewish schools. Differences also cited in chemistry, physics and communications


The Arab post-primary education system has higher ranks of students majoring in the science fields of physics, chemistry and biology than Jewish education system, the Central bureau of statistics (CBS) said Thursday.

The Jewish religious education system is reported to have a lower rank of students studying science compared to the secular education system. Within the latter, more students who study science subjects are from cities considered to have a higher socioeconomic standing.

The CBS data is based on a survey held in 2011, aiming to measure weekly teaching hours in classes for an international OECD report.

The report showed that in 2011, only 30% of the students in the Jewish education system studied biology compared to 46% of students in the Arab education system. However, Arab students only study an average of 2.9 hours per week as opposed to 3.7 hours per week in Jewish schools.

Other gaps in favor of the Arab education system as opposed to the Jewish one included physics (31% to 28%), chemistry (39% to 13%), and communication (52% to 21%). In all subjects however, Jewish students had more teaching hours per week.

According to the report, 43% of secular Jewish students and only 6% of religious Jewish students studied Arabic in 2011.

Furthermore, only 31% of secular Jewish students had Judaism studies in their curriculum, while 100% of the students in the religious schools had them.

CBS data also showed significant differences between economically strong and weak Jewish cities: Some 21% of the students affluent cities studied chemistry and 24% studied physics; while only 3% of the students in lower rated cities studies chemistry, and 13% studies physics.

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IRGC: Drone photographed Dimona reactor


Al-Arabiya quotes sources in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards saying that drone was launched by Iran and completed its mission


Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is claiming that the drone that infiltrated Israeli airspace over the weekend completed its mission and photographed the Dimona reactor, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday.

“The unmanned aircraft managed to photograph the Israeli atomic reactor in Dimona in its smallest details,” Al-Arabiya’s senior correspondent Najat Mohammed Ali said.

Considered a reliable reporter, Ali said he received information from high-ranking sources in the IRGC according to which Iran had launched the drone.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s official TV station Al Manar announced that Hassan Nasrallah will give an address on Thursday evening and will provide details on the drone.

Sources in the Arab press said that Nasrallah may announce that Hezbollah launched the drone in cooperation with Iran.

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Hezbollah confirms it sent drone downed over IsraHell


Hassan Nasrallah says drone downed by IAF was Iranian made, ‘flew over sensitive installations’


Hezbollah Chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility Thursday for launching the drone aircraft that entered Israeli airspace earlier this week, a rare and provocative move by the Lebanese militants at a time of soaring regional tensions.

The aircraft was shot down by two IAF F-16I jets in an open area in the northern Negev region.

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In an interview with al-Manar television, Nasrallah said that the drone was Iranian-made.

He added that the drone “Flew over sensitive installations” inside Israel.

“Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden,” Nasrallah said.

“It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine… This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want” inside Israel, he said.

Nasrallah said the drone “flew hundreds of kilometers until it penetrated (Israel’s) south.”

The aircraft, which the Hezbollah leader made a point of describing as “bigger and better” than the one used in a similar attempt in 2006, was flying according to a pre-programmed route and was able to “get very close to the Dimona reactor.”

Earlier Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is “Determined to protect our borders on land, in the air and at sea, as we did when we intercepted Hezbollah’s attempt to send a drone into our airspace.”

Netanyahu spoke while touring the Israel-Egypt border.

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Rabbi suspected of stealing Torah scrolls


Residents of southern community surprised to discover parchments of seven Torah scrolls missing from local synagogue, replaced with paperboard


Police on Tuesday arrested a rabbi on suspicion of being involved in stealing Torah scrolls from a synagogue in a southern Israeli community.

Residents of Moshav Brosh in the Negev were surprised to discover during the holiday of Simchat Torah that parchments of seven Torah scrolls had been stolen from the local synagogue and replaced with paperboard.

The rabbi faced a court on Wednesday. In the meantime, police are trying to find out what happened to the parchments and where they disappeared to.

Local resident Mordechai Vaknin, who discovered the theft, told Ynet: “On the eve of the holiday we take out the Torah scrolls for the traditional encircling of the synagogue. One of the scrolls, which belongs to my family, was bought four months ago.

“My eldest son asked to see the scroll for the first time. When he opened it he said, ‘Dad, this isn’t a Torah scroll. There’s no parchment, it’s fake.’ We took a look and realized that it was filled with paperboard, most probably so that we wouldn’t feel a difference when carrying it.”

Each Torah scroll is valued at NIS 50,000-120,000 (about $12,900-31,000).

The suspect said after being arrested, “I’m a bit confused. I intend to return the stuff. I would like to apologize to anyone who might have been hurt by this.”

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Turkey Shows Double Duplicity on Syria


By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

With the blessing of the US and its other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners, as well as its own national legislature if not the entire Turkish population, some of whom have been holding mass rallies in opposition to Ankara’s war policy vis-a-vis Syria, the Turkish government has resorted to a double hypocrisy.

On the one hand, it has exploited the mortar attack on a Turkish border town, which may have well originated from the well-armed opposition groups trying to weaken Damascus by instigating Turkish-Syrian skirmishes, without even a pause to inquire whether the Syrian army had anything to do with that attack. Even The Wall Street Journal admitted: “While Turkey blamed Wednesday’s attack on the Syrian regime, it remained unclear whether it was a deliberate attack or an errant bombing. Most analysts in Turkey concluded that President [Bashar al-] Assad had little to gain from targeting Turkish civilians.”

Instead of a measured, level-headed response, the government of Recip Erdogan has rushed lawmakers into giving him carte blanche for Turkish incursions inside Syria, most likely as part and parcel of a concerted effort to secure a “safe haven” for Syrian rebels along the border, where the (French-led) efforts to set up a Syrian provisional government would gain a foothold on Syrian territory.

On the other hand, this “hard power” strategy has been combined, and partly camouflaged, by the “soft power” tactic of stepping back from the year-long calls for a wholesale regime change in Damascus, by pretending that Ankara is now lowering its expectations and would be happy to see the embattled Assad relinquish power and be replaced by his vice-president, Farouq al-Shara, described by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as “a man of reason and conscience” who “has not taken part in the massacres in Syria … the Syrian opposition is inclined to accept Shara” as the future leader of the Syrian administration.

But this shows that Davutoglu himself is not a man of either reason or conscience, as he and his government are clearly sold on the “neo-Ottoman” dream of acting as kingmakers in neighboring countries, by giving lip service to the United Nations’ current efforts to stop the deadly violence in Syria, as well as the efforts of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, to establish dialogue between the warring parties in Syria through a “quartet” consisting of Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

But the Saudis, who failed to show up at the quartet’s last meeting in Cairo, have apparently decided to pull out because of their misgivings regarding the role of Iran, which they see as part of the problem rather than the solution, per reports in the Persian Gulf media. This is as if the Saudis are the blessed peacemakers and incapable of an earnest self-critique, given their prominent role in providing arms and finance to the Syrian opposition – which by all indications will not rest until the entire Ba’athist regime is overthrown.

Still, irrespective of the self-evident goals and objectives of the Syrian opposition that belie Davutoglu’s claim that they would be content with a mere change of musical chairs in Damascus, Ankara continues with its dual-track approach that, as stated above, reeks of hypocrisy. In fact, despite appearances to the contrary, this shows no real change of Turkish policy toward Syria, only a temporary adjustment that underscores Ankara’s determination to support the armed opposition by opening a new front against Damascus, sowing division in the Syrian political hierarchy by giving the impression that it has given up on the goal of regime change in Syria, while in reality even that pretension at this juncture is yet another cloaking maneuver to bring about regime change in Damascus.

The trouble with the present Turkish approach toward Syria is, however, twofold. First, the Turkish military salvos, entering a second week, run the risk of military escalation and may well serve as a unifying factor for Damascus, thus strengthening Assad instead of weakening him as patriotic Syrians rally behind the anti-Turkish cause.

Second, there is a saying “sever the head and the body falls”. Given the nature of Syria’s political hierarchy and tradition of strong autocratic rulers, it is a safe bet that a “Yemen-style” scenario has little chance of success in Syria’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious, sect-driven system and, consequently, the Turkish proposal for Assad’s deputy is an invitation to a transition to system collapse, not system preservation.

Davutoglu wants us to believe that this is not the case and that a post-Assad transition without much tampering with the present Ba’ath-led order is indeed feasible. But Davutoglu and other Turkish leaders are probably hiding their anticipation of a rather quick unraveling of the post-Assad scenario presented by them, by the combined pressures to (a) dismantle the dreaded security infrastructure, (b) put on trial the perpetrators of crimes against Syrian population, (c) write a new constitution by a new democratically elected parliament, one that would do away with the Ba’ath Party’s monopoly of power and dominance of Syrian political space, and (d) merge the armed groups with a new, and much sanitized, Syrian national army.

This is, of course, assuming that the post-Assad scene will not be dominated by revenge killings, chaos, confessional retributions, sectarian divisions, the de facto breakup of national unity, uncontrolled irredentism, and so on.

Indeed, the list of challenges inherent in the new Turkish proposal is a formidable one and raises serious question about its applicability and chance of success, unless of course the Turkish narrative is a mere put-on, that is, to mollify the image of Turkish aggressors violating Syrian sovereignty in the name of legitimate response to unprovoked attacks on their territory.

Still, in light of the Syrian quagmire and the rising toll of civilian casualties and mass refugees – the latest reports indicate tens of thousands have fled to Egypt as well – Ankara must have realized that its old regime-change strategy is in trouble and new nuances must be introduced, on both the military and political fronts. Thus, via the suspicious mortar attack cited above, it has inserted itself more forcefully in the Syrian military equation while simultaneously appearing more dovish by making it look as if it can live with a Syrian Alawite-led Ba’athist regime without Assad.

It has thus widened the gulf between its rhetoric and its intentions, at the same time triggering the unintended consequence of having to come to grips with the fact that the rebels are simply incapable of dislodging the regime in Damascus in the foreseeable future, at least not without foreign assistance.

Bottom line: the chips have fallen on the military side, not the political side, of the equation, with Turkey the NATO member intent on extending NATO’s foothold inside Syria slowly but surely, irrespective of certain misgivings by some Western politicians, including in Washington, who are wary of jihadis in the Syrian civil war.

The sad part of the unfolding tragedy in Syria consists of the fact that ambitious and self-aggrandizing politicians in Turkey are allowed to play a disproportionate role as architects of the Western approach toward Syria, even though Europe has neither the finances nor the desire to be the Libyan-style stakeholder of a future Syria.

A wake-up call to the European Union to put a rein on Turkey’s war chariot in Syria is therefore urgently called for, simply because Turkey’s new offensive against Syria is a recipe for disaster, for Syria, Turkey, and indeed the whole region.

What needs to be done instead of such militaristic tactics covered with the language of compromise is a new peace offensive, real and genuine support for UN efforts and other related peace initiatives. The path chosen by Ankara will only lead to more and not less conflict, at least for the foreseeable future.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi PhD is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press). For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading in Iran Foreign Policy after September 11 (BookSurge Publishing, October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations (CreateSpace, November 12, 2011).

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Poll: Naziyahu beats election rivals, right-wing bloc grows stronger


Poll shows that support for Naziyahu is even stronger than it was in the previous poll some two weeks ago.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Haaretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

The poll, conducted by Dialog under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, shows that Netanyahu easily defeats all his possible rivals from the center-left bloc. As far as the public is concerned, Netanyahu is deemed much more suitable for post of prime minister than any of his potential rivals.

At the same time, the Likud-right wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc has increased its strength to 68 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has gone down to 52, compared to the blocs’ respective strength in the outgoing Knesset and the previous poll.

The candidate with the highest support after Netanyahu is Tzipi Livni, who has retired from political life. However, Livni, who is considering a return to political life, fails to muster more than half of the support attributed to Netanyahu (57 percent – 28 percent ).

Ironically, Livni, who failed as Kadima’s leader in the opposition, lost to Shaul Mofaz in the party primaries and was ousted from the political arena by her party members, is the leading opposition candidate.

Kadima members may regret voting for Mofaz as their party leader in March. No wonder many of them are hoping that she or Ehud Olmert will return. Or even both of them.

Support for the remaining potential candidates – former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who hasn’t decided yet whether he’s throwing his hat in the ring, Atzmaut leader Ehud Barak, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz and Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich – is not impressive.

The poll results lead to the conclusion that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister.

The poll, conducted by Dialog, under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, shows that support for Netanyahu is even stronger than it was in the previous poll some two weeks ago. Asked about their satisfaction with Netanyahu’s performance as prime minister, 45 percent of the interviewees were satisfied and 45 percent were dissatisfied, marking a 15 percent improvement from the last poll, in which only 38 were satisfied compared to 53 who were not.

The improvement in Netanayhu’s position likely results from his presentation at the UN and perhaps from his announcement of early elections.

While the Likud receives a few more Knesset seats and Labor a few less, Yair Lapid is considerably stronger, according to this poll. Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut Party does not obtain the minimum required votes to enter the Knesset.

Future polls are expected to examine the repercussions of a party led by Olmert on the political map. However, in view of the right wing bloc’s strength, it is hard to imagine Olmert, with or without Livni, attracting enough cross-over votes from the right.

If Olmert joins the campaign, he will no doubt affect the power balance in the center-left bloc dramatically. Yacimovich will weaken, Lapid will weaken even more. Mofaz will probably have to renounce his place as Kadima leader. It is not clear, however, whether this will change the outcome for Netanyahu.

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What my one-year-old taught me about Simhat Torah


The Torah is not merely an intellectual tool. At its base, it is a vehicle for amazement, awe, and profound joy.

ed note–I put this here not to bore people to tears, but rather to put to rest one of the major mistaken ideas so prevalent in ‘the movement’ today, namely that the Jews don’t follow the Old Testament at all and instead follow the Talmud. This notion–the product of sloppy, emotionally-driven ‘research’, posits the idea that the Old Testament is something good and wholesome and that if the Jews would just adhere to this instead of their Talmud, althe world’s problemas they pertain to the Jews would be fixed.

This notion is complete hogwash on several levels. The first is that you cannot have any Talmud with the Torah (Old Testament). The Talmud is a compendium of TORAH COMMENTARY collected over the centuries. Like case law coming out of the Supreme Court as a result of constitutional cases being heard, likewise the Talmud’s basis is the Torah. In short, were there no Torah, there would be no Talmud.

Next, all anyone need do in concluding that the Torah is the nucleus around which Jewish life revolves is to read the Jewish press everyday, and especially the news coming out of Israel. Rabbis and lay people both are quoted talking about the Torah’s justification for everything that the Jews do, both in the Middle East and on an international scale.

Until we get our facts straight, start dealing with things on a realistic basis instead of on emotionally-driven religiosity, we will never be able to rationally deal with (and fix) this thing known as ‘the Jewish problem’.

By Rabbi Joel Seltzer

I am obliged to make what might seem like a stunning admission to many: For years now, I have not been a fan of Simhat Torah, especially the way we observe this holiday in the Diaspora.

First we are moved by the clarion call of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah. Then we find redemption in the penitential prayer of Yom Kippur. Then, we build our sukkot, return to nature, and from within the paradoxical comfort we find in vulnerability, we become “akh sameach” – “only happy.” During the intermediate days of Chol Hamoed as we shake our arba minim – the four species, (lulav, etrog, hadas and aravah) – we are reminded that bringing together disparate fragments of our world is part of our holy mission as human beings. And then, after nearly three weeks of being in a consistent state of ‘holidayness,’ (and in the Diaspora, after the marathon synagogue service of Shemini Atzeret) we are nonetheless asked to muster our last ounce of energy and to rejoice with unbridled enthusiasm for Simhat Torah, the festival of rejoicing with our Torah.

Well, I must admit it. For years now I have simply felt too tired to meaningfully connect with this joyous holiday; and I have felt guilty about it. After all, I love the Torah. The Shabbat Torah reading remains the highlight of my week, as it has since the days of my youth at Jewish summer camp. The depth of meaning which is to be found within the layers of our Torah consistently amazes me, week after week, year after year of our lives. For the Jewish people it is simple algebra: Our lives are a variable; but the Torah is our constant.

And yet, despite all of this – it is one thing to ‘love’ the Torah, and it is quite another thing to be moved to energetic ecstasy, to grab the atzei chaim, the Torah’s handles, and to dance with joyful abandon.

But, all my ambivalence about Simhat Torah disappeared this year, because of a lesson I learned from my one and a half year-old daughter. Among the many words she is now miraculously learning to articulate is a singular word which reminded me about the truest meaning of Simhat Torah.

The word is ‘Todo’, and it is how my daughter says ‘Torah.’ It started on Kol Nidre night. As I held her in my arms during the opening processional of the sifrei Torah (books of the Torah), she looked on with bright eyes and excitement. As the sifrei torah rounded our corner of the sanctuary she reached out with her hand squealing with joy: ‘Todo, Todo, Todo!’

Again this past week of Sukkot, during the “hakafot” – the processionals around the sanctuary with our lulav and etrog – my daughter was not focused on the arba minim, but rather on the sefer torah which was brought out of the ark to watch our loving procession. Again the glint in her eyes appeared, her smile curled, her hands stretched out: ‘Todo, Todo, Todo!’

In the mystical book Sefer Yetzirah it is taught that God created the universe using the forms of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. In Chapter Two we learn that “God engraved them, shaped them, combined them . . . God formed through them everything that was created and that was destined to be created.”

From this tradition we learn that these letters, these simple forms, black ink upon a white parchment, are not merely pictographs, but instead they have the capacity to transform our very reality; they have creative power. In short, they are wondrous.

This is precisely what my daughter has taught me. That the Torah is not merely an intellectual tool, it is not solely meant to give meaning to our lives and to guide our ritual and ethical behavior. Instead, at its base, the Torah is a vehicle for amazement, for awe, and therefore for profound joy.

So this year, unlike in the past, I could rejoice on Simhat Torah despite my lethargy from the long month of holidays. Looking at my daughter, I could reconnect to my own primal past as well as to the genesis of God’s ever-expanding universe, I could experience joy, and yes – l could dance.

Rabbi Joel Seltzer is the director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, a Jewish Summer Camp experience under the auspices of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

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