Sir, - I would like to suggest a solution to the problem of getting Haredim to serve the country ("Gov't bids to get more haredim to serve," December 19). Pikuah nefesh (life-saving) squads could be formed to provide emergency services in the civilian sector. The squads would be trained to, interalia, respond to medical emergencies, fight fires and rescue flood or earthquake victims. Such services would be halachically mandatory, even to the extent of breaking Shabbat observance, to save lives in immediate danger. With proper training they would provide invaluable support for existing emergency response teams.
Service in these squads would not be voluntary and would not be restricted to haredim, but would provide a halachically acceptable alternative to service in the IDF.
What about an ambulance?
Sir, - As a registered nurse and a former US army medic, I consider it inexcusable that no one thought to call for an ambulance to transport Prime Minister Sharon to the hospital ("Sharon suffers mild stroke," December 19). At the very least his driver or bodyguards should have requested an ambulance meet them en route to the hospital.
Why are there no guidelines requiring, in the event the prime minister falls seriously ill, that professional medical personnel be called to assist him immediately?
When prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot, his bodyguards and driver insisted on driving him to the hospital rather than call for an ambulance or medical assistance. Rabin's death may have been, in part, due to this decision.
Certainly most of us would call Magen David Adom if any ordinary Israeli needed medical attention. Shouldn't our prime minister expect the same?
KENNETH S. BESIG
Power in the balance
Sir, - Amotz Asa-El writes of "the unreasonable power assumed, and abused, by Likud's party center" and says that "the prime minister must be more empowered" ("The other strategic threat," December 16). With the power he already has, the prime minister defied the principles of the party center regarding foreign policy, defied a vote of the party membership, fired ministers who disagreed with his unilateral policy swing, and created a new party that offers no more ideology than a fan club.
How could he possibly be more empowered than that, unless he also got to choose the Supreme Court, the interest rate and the annual Eurovision entry?
When you agree with the leader's policies, it is easy to wish for a system that allows him to implement them even more quickly. However, the measure of a democratic system is not only in the powers it affords a leader but also in the limits it imposes.
MARK L. LEVINSON
Sir, - Amotz Asa-el presents an overview of the failings of our political system and offers three strategies to repair it.
â€¢ Separation of executive and legislative branches: With this, he would cast aside the Westminster system, where the executive is drawn from parliament. While this has not done well in Israel, this system has provided stable and effective governments in the UK and Australia.
â€¢ Further empowering the prime minister: Wasn't this tried here recently? Direct election of the prime minister, which gave him the added authority of being the only government member truly elected by the people, was not a success. Again, the Westminster system has much to commend it for reining in dictatorial tendencies, the other side of the coin.
â€¢ Lawmakers should become accountable for their legislative performance: Here he rightly fingers our quasi-democratic electoral system.
It therefore confounds that he seems to favour at least partial retention of national lists. These would be acceptable only if voters could indicate a preference for candidates.
Sir, - Having read the article about the Swedish parliament breaking relations with the Iranian parliament following a letter from the speaker of the Knesset ("Swedish parliament to cease ties with Iran, thanks to Rivlin," December 14), I sent a letter to the Dutch liberal party VVD.
The VVD parliamentary faction replied that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks were extremely dangerous and unacceptable. The VVD also said that Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot (of the VVD) should recall the Dutch ambassador to Iran, and other EU countries should do likewise. The VVD faction added that Bot should summon the Iranian ambassador to answer for his president's remarks.
Sir, - Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi is wrong when he says "Diplomacy won't thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions," December 19). I think we should have great confidence in the EU's negotiations with Iran. After all, the Europeans have an excellent reputation as negotiators. The best example of their prowess is the result of talks in Munich in 1938 after which there was, of course, as Neville Chamberlain said, "peace in our time."
Sir, - If Hamas ends up gaining political control in Gaza, Ariel Sharon will have again succeeded, as he did in visiting the Temple Mount in 2000, in exposing the true nature of our "peace partner." We should be thankful for a man of such courage and vision in this benighted age.
Sir, - Steven Spielberg would not have been able to hire the chief public relations consultant for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima Party Eyal Arad ("Spielberg hires PM aide to promote 'Munich,'" December 19) without the express consent of Sharon himself.
On May 21 the Civil Service Commission reported to the Knesset's Israel Government Controls Committee that Arad receives a full-time salary from the government of Israel to provide strategic service to the prime minister.
Israel cannot ask for moral support for its cause and then allow a senior government PR official to promote a film which, a wide consensus of Jewish opinion holds, advocates the "moral equivalency" of the murderers and their victims in the 1972 Olympic massacre.
Sir, - I would like to correct what I believe was an error in Abe Krieger's letter ("Tug of war," December 16). The present rabbi of the Highland Park Conservative Temple was not ordained as an Orthodox rabbi. He was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of the Conservative movement. Also, it is worth noting that the film which Mr. Krieger referred to is called Trembling Before God, a serious documentary about homosexuals and lesbians within Orthodoxy.
The current rabbi's predecessor, however, had an Orthodox ordination and acted in the traditional Conservative style with "strong leanings to the observant end of the Conservative spectrum," as Samuel G. Freedman put it in his article ("The Conservative conundrum," December 14). As a result of his influence most people walked to synagogue, kept kosher homes, sent their children to day-school and married within the Jewish community.
Funding video games
Sir, - An article in the Post's New York Times supplement helped make us aware of some of the problems of investing ("Nice Fund, Naughty Video Games," December 18). Respected mutual fund companies like Oppenheimer and Fidelity have made significant investments in companies that produce video games such as "Grand Theft Auto" which rewards players for committing violent crimes.
While unaware investors can do little about such portfolios, parents must take responsibility for seeing that these video games are not made available indiscriminately. There must be public awareness of the harm done to children and adults who play these games.
Sir, - "Over the last few decades," Meir Ronnen wrote, "Israel's diversion of water from Lake Kinneret into the national water carrier has caused the progressive drop in the level of the Dead Sea, reducing its size by nearly half" ("Ancient dead Sea anchors were carefully designed, December 16). Two ancient wooden anchors were uncovered as a result.
This is only part of the reason for the receding waters of the Dead Sea. The other part is that the Dead Sea Works is mining minerals from the water and accelerating its evaporation at an alarming pace. Most environmental scientists not on the Dead Sea Works' payroll, or the payroll of the local regional council, agree that if this mining was stopped it would greatly reduce the rate of water evaporation from its current alarming pace of 1 meter per year along the shoreline.
Sir, - The marketing pitch which I received this week from one of the country's large phone companies indicates that Israel's attraction to non-Jewish culture has sunk to yet another low.
The saleswoman on the phone described the company's newest deal and then proceeded to explain that the offer was being made in honor of the holiday of Silvester (the approaching secular New Year).
I expressed my appall: "I don't celebrate Silvester! Why is a phone company in a Jewish state offering a new deal in honor of Silvester? Why don't you offer something in honor of Hanukka instead? Don't you think that's more appropriate?"
We are refusing the deal specifically because it is being offered in honor of a non-Jewish holiday. We hope others, regardless of their level of religious observance, will have enough Jewish pride to reject the deal as well.