Monthly Archives: December 2009

Bracing for Israel’s Next Gaza Attack

There were no winners in the Gaza war that Israel launched a year ago today, but no shortage of losers. And failure to address its underlying causes – the economic siege through which Israel, Egypt and the US hope to force Hamas from power, and that organisation’s ability to respond by firing rockets into Israel – means that far from anyone learning the lessons of the brutal folly that was Operation Cast Lead, a repeat may be imminent. Continue reading

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How I Overcame My Jewish-Evangelical Upbringing and Learned to Love Christmas, Anyway

Guest Column: Gavin Evans Back in the day, when Gavin and I were young activists trying to change the world, the doorbell rang at our Observatory student house. I opened it to see a tall and handsome man in the silky purple shirt and dog collar of an Anglican Bishop. “You must be Tony,” said Bishop Bruce Evans. “I hope you’re going to make a mensch out of my son.” I was a little gobsmacked to hear +Bruce, as I came to know him, tossing out yiddish bon mots. But as his menschedik son relates here, many are the pathways of the lord, and all that….

The fundamentalist century

By Gavin Evans

So, Christmas and Hannukah have rolled past again, following in the wake of Eid and Diwali. Lots of celebrations all around and, perhaps, time to put a bit of religion back into the mix.

It is fitting to start with the obvious point that these festivals and commemorations are not all they seem. Take Christmas: the date of December 25 was chosen by the Romans sometime after 350 AD, probably to coincide with a pagan festival (and certainly not the birth date of the historical Jesus) – one of the many ways the Romans managed to wed Christianity with pre-existing Pagan traditions and beliefs. But Christmas only became prominent after Charlemagne was crowned on December 25, 800, and it took more than another millennium before the traditions of trees, and presents crept in (Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens did their bit) – and a bit longer before the North Pole Santa arrived. In other words, its connections with Christianity are tenuous, to say the least. It has become, essentially, a secular celebration – which is one of the reasons why I am happy to embrace its charms.

But this was not the way I grew up. I was raised on fundamentalism, and Christmas certainly wasn’t exempt. We were told the point wasn’t the actual date but rather that this was celebration of the birth of Jesus and that we give presents to remember that God gave his son for our salvation (I later discovered that other cultures – Spanish, for example – give their presents later as a celebration of the gifts given by the Three Wise Men). Continue reading

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Why Obama Defaulted to Bush on Iran

This from my latest on TIME.com.

Having concluded that President Obama’s outreach has failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program, the final weeks of 2009 find his Administration focused on mustering support for new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Iran’s rejection of the terms offered thus far by the U.S. and its partners has prompted Obama to largely revert to the Bush Administration’s approach of ultimatums backed by sanctions — with little obvious prospect of producing a substantially different result.

So how did he get here? In a nutshell, he allowed the Washington hawks, in concert with Israel and European hawks such as Sarkozy, to paint him into a corner by setting an artificial deadline on his diplomatic effort, and more importantly, basing them on the same demands as the Bush Administration which Iran had repeatedly rejected. Not only has Iran’s domestic turmoil limited its own regime’s room for maneuver, Iran’s opposition is as vehement as its conservatives in rejecting Washington’s demand that Iran give up uranium enrichment.

So Obama is going out on the road of further sanctions, now, but it’s generally agreed that sanctions aren’t going to change Iran’s position. At which point those who set the time-limits on diplomacy will demand that Obama go to war….
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Hannukah Without the Taliban

In a country occupied by a Western power, the locals are faced with a choice. Some have opted to reconcile their own traditions with those of their occupier, borrowing from Western ways that open the path to philosophy and science, and integrating themselves into a wider culture. Others fiercely resist, waging a bitter and bloody war not only on the occupier, but also on those in their own community who seek to collaborate or integrate with the occupiers who are denounced as defilers.

If this were contemporary Afghanistan-Pakistan, you’d know who was whom, right? But before you bite into that latke or sing the dreidel song, you may want to consider that in Judea in the second century BC, the Taliban role is played by the Maccabees. And it is the Maccabees, of course, who are lionized in the Hanukah tale.

In fact, they pretty much invented the holiday… Continue reading

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