Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Prostitution In Israel

Illegal prostitution has become a huge problem in Israel in recent years, beginning in the late 90's and carrying on until today. Until the mid 2000s over 3,000 women were being brought into the country for sex trafficking every year, a staggering number considering the fact that many are lured in by gangs on the promise of work, smuggled over the border or simply abducted. Many came from Russian territories. 2007 even saw the country listed as one of the top trafficking destinations in the world, according to the BBC. The story, which was featured in November 2007, notes that Israeli officials were eventually forced into action after repeated pressure from the United States, which only happened after a grueling ten years of doing little to nothing in terms of law enforcement. Prostitution itself is legal, but pimping and brothels are not.
Prostitute Slaves
The numbers have gone down since then, at least in terms of foreign women being used as prostitutes. In response to a multinational lockdown on smuggling foreign women into the country, local brothel owners and pimps have begun to target Israeli girls instead. While the numbers are significantly lower, the internet arm of Israel's Haaretz newspaper notes that it is still considered a big problem. The article notes that while the number of illegal sex workers has gone down, the demand has not. Haaretz, the country's oldest newspaper, has little reason to skew the facts. Though the circulation is low, they are widely respected as one of the better Israeli news sources. For its part, Israel denies the issue of sex trafficking, with the police giving a prefabricated response of nonexistence to any inquiries into the subject. That said, they are cracking down much harder domestically than before. As previously stated, the number of foreign workers is down tremendously from only a few years prior.
Information poster on Ukranian Prostitutes in Israel
Legal prostitution, by contrast, has remained largely the same. While some independent sex workers are drafted by brothels or pimps, many remain in the same position they did before. This is despite a largely abolitionist legal approach to prostitution in general, as there are major loopholes in enforcement that allow both the legal and illegal sides of the industry to continue functioning. Technically legal regardless, the only hard laws against sex workers come in the form of anti-child pornography and advertising. Women are therefore arrested on technicalities, such as enticement and public exposure, at least according to a University of Rhode Island facts page that heavily borrows content from a 1997 CEDAW report. For instance, prostitution is legal, but being the client of a prostitute is not.
Israel Prostitute with "John"
Prostitution within the country is also heavily linked to drug abuse and alcoholism, with Women's News Net reporting that a statistically large number of both foreign and domestic workers are attracted to the business because of previous abuse or psychological issues. Most are women, but this number also includes transsexuals. A multitude of rehabilitation programs exist for former sex workers, but the problem is that young people continue to get sucked into the business out of desperation or because they are forced. Prostitution can even begin as young as 11 or 12 years old. Combating the myriad issues behind the problem itself, most officials agree, is the key to solving the problem. It just isn't clear how to put together such a concentrated effort. So, for now, individual organs exist to help. Some appear to be working, but the overall problem continues to fester.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Druze

The Druze are a genetically distinct community in Israel, notable for their high level of distinction among local minority groups and secretive religion. Many aspects of the Druze are fascinating, from their blend of traditional monotheistic traditions (Druze religion is a combination of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) to their close-knit social policies. Druze women very rarely marry outside of the Druze population, normally wedding to cousins from different continents. The population is global, and while the most prominent areas are in and around Israel, Lebanon and Syria, there are smaller groups located all over the world. This high level of genetic diversity coupled with rare marriage to non-Druze would normally spell doom for the gene pool, but in this case it has actually served  to preserve ancient gene codes as well as create radically diverse DNA chains.

Druze Religious Leaders
Druze religious leaders
 The original Druze populations descended either from ancient Jewish tribes or local populations of native middle easterners who converted, as well as other groups that were integrated later as the populations split apart and migrated. However, the intermarriage policies of the Druze have led the mitochondrial DNA to be preserved within a single, closed gene pool. Women who intermarry with non-Druze can be exiled from Druze lands, never to return, effectively removing them from diluting the chains with outside genetic influences. Of course, modern day members often disregard this aspect of the religion, but thanks to long-held traditions it will still be generations before any significant reduction in diversity begins to show.

Family groups 2 and 3 are Arab, while 1 is Druze. Note the number of unique sequences.

In fact, the long-guarded genetics of the Druze may be working to their advantage. Relatively recent scientific discoveries have charted evolutionary forward-thinking changes in brain size in Druze that match historical patterns, but occurring at a much faster rate and with a much higher degree of appearance. For science it means that humanity as a whole is looking at continued development of the brain, but for the Druze it means that through their social hierarchies and religious misgivings (the intermarriage laws arose due to persecution by Christians and Muslims) they may have stumbled upon a key to more rapid steps in the evolutionary chain. An incredible discovery, to be sure.

Wedding Day
Druze woman on her wedding day. This wedding was unique in that it was televised and to a non-Druze man.

One of the reasons that the Druze were (and largely still are) able to maintain these policies is that they have been recognized as a separate religious entity, complete with their own courts, jurisdiction and spiritual leadership that is wildly distinct from other Israelis. Despite being under two million strong worldwide, the Druze are held in incredibly high regard, often attaining leadership positions and high ranking government and religious jobs. Their numbers increase very slowly because they do not accept converts and the aforementioned policy on outside marriage, which contributes to their centralized power base. Additionally, women have attained a high degree of respect in Druze society. They are often regarded much more highly then men, noted for their greater degree of spiritual preparation and even handed decision making.

The sources noted above are, for the most part, trustworthy. The article on Druze genes and ancient migration patterns comes from the Jewish Daily Forward, a global e-publication that covers Jewish community issues and the like. It's a trustworthy source and, considering the subject matter, has no reason to exaggerate any claims about the particular focus of the article. The gene pool article is from a noted research publication called Science daily, which has its integrity as a research paper on the line in the case that anything proved less than factual. The article entitled "Ongoing Adaptive Evolution of ASPM" is a research dissertation from the University of Chicago's genetics department, which suggests that it's easily the most trustworthy source invoked here. The Jewish virtual library revels in Jewish historical facts, so the article plumbed from its thousands of documents may contain some sensational history or residual long-windedness, but nothing notable askew with any hard facts about population growth. However, Mandragora in a UK-based procurer of documents related to the occult and metaphysics, which suggests that its articles are actively sensationalized for the sake of camp and sales. However, considering that this is one of the more mundane resources on the site (others include invoking dragon spirits and speaking telepathically to plants) it is likely mostly factual, though the research could easily be faulty.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Mizrahim

The Mizrahi Jews, or Jews hailing from the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, are a group of ethnically distinct Jewish practitioners that faced near-universal expulsion from Arab states following 1948. This is despite the fact that they had been living peacefully alongside Arab peoples for thousands of years, and represents a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of Arab leaders to the Arab-Israeli war. At least, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, an organization whose goal is to level the playing field when it comes to reporting on topics of Israeli history and politics. Some practice Sephardic Judaism, a result of intermingling with Jews who were similarly expelled from Iberia in 586 BCE and Spanish Jews. Most Mizrahim (of both sects) currently reside in Israel, which has absorbed almost a million displaced refugees in the time since the Six-Day War.

                                    Jewish refugees were expelled by the armies of their respective Arab states.

Mizrahim can be found all over the world, and with the exception of the aforementioned Israel the largest displaced populations are in the United States and western Europe. Many were eventually allowed back to their home countries, but not the assets they once owned. The instead live largely in tent cities and refugee camps on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas, denied any monetary compensation for their losses. As reported by notable English-language Israeli news site ynetnews, currently there are political movements that aim to reclassify the refugees are such, with proposed legislation that aims to compensate families for loss of property. The site has a history of accurate reporting, and either way the report doesn't have a slant in one way or the other.

As an ethnic group, the Mizrahi share a genetic history with some of the oldest tribes of Israel, with thousands of years of history behind them. Though sometimes lumped together with the Sephardic, the two groups have very different traditions that include practicing different holidays and alternate interpretations of holy documents. The information repository Wise Geek notes that these religious practices were also likely responsible for many of the religious similarities between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as the Mizrahim in other countries had a knack for integration into their communities. Sephardim, by contrast, are those that chose to return to Israel after the Persian empire kicked out the Babylonian army.
                                                                               Exterior of a Mizrahi synagogue.

The Mizrahim, as is the case with many Jewish groups, has often had been subjected to hardship over the course of its long history. This is according to the Jewish Virtual Library, which, while obviously of Jewish origin, would likely attempt to remain neutral on matters of historical relevance. Mizrahi that chose to live in Christian communities (notably Spain during the Spanish Inquisition) faced second-class citizen status and rampant violence, which included the Portugese expulsion of Jews and the Roman massacre of much of the Isreali population during the time of the Roman empire. Many would flee to Europe and the Mediterranean during these times, scattering the tribe as well as others such as the Sephardic and Orthodox.


Catholic agents would torture and kill thousands, many of them Jews, in an attempt to convert them to Catholicism during the Inquisition.

Contemporary Mizrahi live all over the world, though the sting of their recent expulsion from their Arab homes is still heavy on many of their minds. This article by former refugee Israel Bonan chronicles his ejection from Egypt in 1967, and refutes the notion that the Mizrahi lived peacefully alongside their neighbors up until 1948. His personal experiences don't necessarily define his life, but they do influence his views, as he notes that the black and white view of their history and expulsion s incorrect, as the political and social realities are far more complex. This is a universally true statement when it comes to historic events, especially with an ancient sect of Judaism like the Mizrahim.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Israeli Military

           The Israeli military encompasses a number of interesting concepts. In practice it functions just like an average military force- there's a navy, an air force, ground forces, a code of conduct, etc. Yet the Israeli military is one of the most controversial armed forces in the known world, despite the fact that they don't commit horrible atrocities on civilians and aren't known for random bouts of brutality. This likely stems from the controversial (and highly contested) control of Israel by the Israelis, since most (if not all) of its neighbors want control of the land. Gaza (in particular the even more controversially contested West Bank) is a major source of stress for the army, as they are dealing with displaced civilians setting up homes along the border. Any use of force is therefore seen in an extremely poor light, no matter what the politics of the situation may be.

Soldiers in the West Bank with displaced civilian
            Israeli military, in addition to being one of the most controversial forces, is also one of the most highly trained. In a country that has historically been threatened by all sides at any moment, the training for Israeli soldiers is extremely intensive. It is not uncommon for individual soldiers to outclass foreign units of the same rank with relative ease. Thanks to laws related to dual citizenship and gays in the military, they also have a very cosmopolitan fighting force. Any citizen of Israeli or Jewish descent is possesses "the right of return," which allows the individual to enter Israel at any time as well as join the military, giving them de facto dual citizenship. Proactive laws concerning Gays in the Military also allow homosexuals to serve, which has been in effect since 1993. As a result, the general population is more accepting of homosexuality as well. All in all, a very proactive move on the part of the army.

            It should be noted that the Israeli military is known as the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF. It serves as the military arm of the overlaping Israeli Security Forces, which includes police and security personnel. The military force has often seen conflict, owing to the region, but after a treaty between other countries such as Egypt and Jordan they have since focused on Lebanon and aiding in US operations such as the Iraq war. Various service branches include the airforce and navy, both of which have taken part in operations in various military clashes, with the airforce taking an especially critical role in conflicts with Egypt and Syria. In the 1970's, it would become incredibly apparent just how critical they were, when Egypt, whose own airforce had been utterly destroyed in a bait & switch tactic by Israeli high command, used Israel's air superiority in order to gain territory on the Sinai and simultaneously weaken Syria.

            It's also not uncommon to see armed Israeli soldiers standing guard outside of buildings that house Israeli diplomats (even when other countries do not), as Israel itself has many enemies. This quality makes them an ever present feature of global diplomacy hubs such as Switzerland and Washington D.C., where many Israeli attaches attend political conferences with other world leaders. By and large, the Israeli military is just a national defense force. But underneath it has many unique facets that make it a powerful symbol of the nation of Israel.

One of many examples of military clashes in the west bank.

Israel Defense Force on Wikipedia:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

‘US Jews’ approval of Obama falling steadily’

On Tuesday, October 12, an opinion poll released by the American Jewish Committee or AJC found that support for U.S. President Barack Obama has fallen to 49% approval among Jewish Americans, down from  a  March poll of 55% job approval. According to the poll, the underlying reason for the slide was that a large faction of U.S. Jews has become increasingly concerned over a number of Obama administration policies implemented in relation to the handling of the Iraq war, foreign policy towards Iran, and of course the administration’s handling of international relations with Israel. American Jewish Committee director David Harris said that he believes drop in approval is not specific to the American Jewish community and that widespread disappointments in the President’s handling of the major issues referenced above have curbed optimism for the peace talks as well as the failing U.S. economy.

Alternatively, the approval rating among U.S. Jews for the way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is handling US-Israeli relation has actually increased to 62% approval, which is a marked 5% increase from the March poll.

In relationship to Iran, 72% of American Jews believe that there is little or no chance that a combination of diplomacy and sanctions can stop Iran from developing Nuclear weapons. A majority of those polled are concerned over the president's diplomatic strategy and would like him to implement tougher policies in the region.

Although there seems to be a great deal of doubt about the success of the Obama administration in brokering peace in the middle-east, it does not appear that Jewish voters will switch parties anytime soon. According to David Harris, the growing pessimissm and frustration with President Obama does not seem to translating in to a growing support for the Republican Party. With 92% of Jewish voters polled by the AJC, 57% percent believe in democratic controlled congress compared with 33% of Jewish voters leaning towards a Republican controlled congress.

This is a very interesting article as it discusses the political views of American Jews and their feelings about the Obama administration, and its handling of key issues concerning the Jewish community and international relations with Israel. However, it is important to note that the American Jewish Community as well as the conductor of the survey, Synovate, only realistically interviewed a fraction of the American Jewish Community and the poll is far from comprehensive. Also, this raises serious questions about the validity of the information presented in the article as well as the reliability of the poll itself.

The article was written by Gil Shefler and is fairly straight forward. However, it does lack any type of depth or perception by the author. In my opinion, the information presented in the article is drawn strictly from inferences made by pollsters, based on a survey conducted on volunteers. In the article, it states the Synovate conducted interviews of 800 respondents via telephone. Of course these respondents are voluntary and it would appear that the results are generally one-sided. That being said, it is interesting to see how Jews in the United States view President Obama. As to whether their views are heavily influenced by the actual policies implemented by his Administration or the increasing disappointment from the various failures of it, it is clear that he is not gaining any traction or support within the Jewish community.

This article from the Jerusalem Post is dated October 13, 2010 and can be found here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Netanyahu, Lieberman spar as FM says no peace ‘for decades’

Associated Press photo of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaking at the United Nations General Assembly.
At the United Nations General Assembly Today, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman raised eyebrows with his controversial remarks regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the likelihood of a peaceful resolution within the immediate future. Lieberman remarked that peace with the Palestinians "could take decades" and that a complete resolution "would not include land for peace but rather an exchange of a populated territory". Lieberman of course was speaking about the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the West Bank, a predominately Arab settlement.

Immediately after the reaction to the controversial comments began to erupt, Prime Minister Binymain Netanyahu did his very best to control the damage. Netanyahu's office released several statements distancing the Prime Minister and the negotiating committee from Lieberman's comments. The prime minister’s office repeated that it was the prime minister that was handling negotiations regarding the conflict. Although various positions and opinions are openly discussed internally, the office of the prime minister has not made the specific determination that Lieberman has proclaimed.  

However, Lieberman's comments were not just a blanket statement of doom and gloom but rather his own personal, frank assessment of what needs to be done. Lieberman framed many of the elements of conflict including the Muslim influence on the Palestinians as well the connection between Iran, terrorism and its incitement of conflict itself. Lieberman argues that in order to build lasting peace, several things must be done. First and foremost, there must be an agreement that is motivated by the "need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by enticement and extremist messages". Additionally, Lieberman advocated moving or adjusting borders rather than population transfer or "land for peace". Lieberman stressed that "states and nations must be in balance in order to ensure peace".

This is a fascinating article and with its controversial subject matter, it is no wonder that Prime Minister Netanyahu was angry and did his best to distance himself and his office from Lieberman's comments. The information in the article is extremely reliable as it is mainly transcripts of what was said at the UN General Assembly as well as statements from the Prime Minister's office and reaction from Foreign Minister. The only thing about the article that I feel was unreliable was the unnamed government source. Although much of what the source said is standard and in line with the official response from the Prime Minister's office, the unnamed source seems to be used more as a way to move the article along rather than presenting any new or valuable information.

The authors of this article are Jordana Horn and Tovah Lazaroff as well as the staff. It is obvious to me that in addition to presenting the facts, the authors seem greatly influenced by Lieberman's comments. This article is clearly written from the perspective that of an official going "off script" and speaking the truth. This point of view is referenced at the end of the article when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon comments that "I think this was one of the best speeches I've heard, I think it was a speech with great vision, wisdom and courage. Ayalon goes on to sum up what I believe is the author's point of view that "Maybe some people are afraid of the truth, but Mr. Lieberman was showing to the world a mirror through which realities in the world, and especially the Middle East, could be seen clearly,".

This article is from the Jerusalem Post and it can be found by clicking here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Young Israelis are moving to Berlin in droves

Over the past several years, a large number of young Israeli citizens are making the move to Germany, Berlin to be precise. This is startling because Berlin, once perceived as a center of the holocaust (more specifically Adolf Hitler’s systematic genocide of over 6 million Jews) is now considered a "free and tolerant community" with an "anything goes" mentality. For decades, Israeli's have dealt with a structured and militant lifestyle as a result of the many conflicts of the region but now younger Israelis who are certainly cognizant of the fact gruesome history of Berlin, have simply put the past behind them in a move for tranquility, peace and affordability of the German flagship city.

However, not all Israelis feel the same way and there are plenty of Berlin Jews who have a strong sense of history culture that have decided to acknowledge the past and move forward in the present. Some Israeli's even find it liberating and have even become more culturally aware of who they are as not everyone in the community is the same race, religion, etc.

This article is fascinating, not only for the fact so many Jews are choosing to leave Israel, but that they have chosen a city(Berlin) that for the longest time symbolized the massacre of their people. I find it particularly interesting that Israelis feel trapped in Israel, and that the land they are fighting so much for does not appeal to them as much as the freedom, tranquility and of course affordability of the German city. This article was obviously written from a human interest perspective and in my opinion makes a good argument both for and against Israelis living in Berlin. On one hand, it is easy to see why West Germany is so appealing(the cost factor, young people and access to more cultures, less threat of terrorism and animosity amongst neighbors) but at the same time, a city with such a dark history should always be remembered as such.

Although the article is ultimately positive about the shift of Israelis to Berlin, it definitely does not ignore the Nazi era and points out the uncomfortable conversation that is yet to be had with the Germans living in Berlin.

This is a very interesting article by the Associated Press, featured in the Jerusalem Post. It can be found here.

Bollywood in Jerusalem

This is a fascinating article about the Indian Film Industry, Bollywood and their first ever film shoot in Israel!! Great story from the Jerusalem Post can be found here.